The Power of Giving Circles

by Roger Craver

A wise fundraiser constantly searches for new approaches.

“New” in terms of sources and approaches to giving beyond the conventional landscape on which most fundraisers graze.

I write to sharpen your focus on the growing importance of the giving circle when it comes to diversifying and democratizing philanthropy.

According to Philanthropy Together, there are 2,000+ giving circles in the U.S. involving approximately 150,000 donors who have contributed $1.29 billion.

You’ll find a treasure trove of info on giving circles when you visit the following links to Philanthropy Together’s website:

Learn more about giving circles >

Giving circles enable regular folks to pool their contributions, thus amplifying the power of individual dollars. They’ve proven to be one of the most effective ways to turn smaller gift dollars into a powerful force for community change.

Over the years, we’ve noted the importance of paying attention to the potential of giving circles. As far back as 12 years ago, in 700+Women = $170,000, we highlighted the promise of giving circles—which, at that time, were mostly women of the non-ultrarich variety joining together to grow some impressive giving power.

We raised it again in The Insanity and Stupidity of Ignoring and Offending Women, in which we noted that women make up 70% of the giving circles in the U.S.—a billion-dollar-plus bloc of money given mainly to local and community causes.

I was especially delighted with the announcement that the W.K. Kellogg Foundation was making a $1 million grant to strengthen and scale the giving circle movement as part of the foundation’s efforts to further racial equity and social justice efforts. The grant goes to a fascinating organization that is only a bit over one-year-old—Philanthropy Together, which was launched in April 2020.

According to Philanthropy Together’s Executive Director Sara Lomelin, “[the Kellogg Foundation grant] will advance Philanthropy Together’s work to strengthen the giving circle movement by equipping everyday givers with the resources, research, and training needed to align their grantmaking with equitable and social justice values and practices.”

For those who want to dig into a better understanding of or even participate in the giving circle movement, here are the services that Philanthropy Together offers to help democratize and diversify philanthropy through collective giving:

Launchpad: Philanthropy Together hosts Launchpad, a global giving circle incubator that trains people to start their own giving circles and has already trained 200+ leaders.

Racial Equity Community of Practice: To support existing giving circles, Philanthropy Together hosts Communities of Practice—a global network where giving circle leaders connect, train, and exchange best practices. Its Racial Equity Community of Practice launched in July 2020 as a 6-month program in partnership with Community Investment Network (CIN) and Community Build Ventures. This fall, the Community of Practice will offer a suite of new trainings and resources for participants to embed racial equity within their culture, leadership, grantmaking, and connection to community.

Social Justice Giving Circle Project: Philanthropy Together is developing the Social Justice Giving Circle Project (SJGCP)—a community and programmatic series for existing and new giving circles rooted in social justice values to strengthen their work and be accountable to social justice movements.

We Give Summit: This past May, Philanthropy Together hosted its inaugural We Give Summit, the first-ever field-wide convening of “every day” philanthropists engaged in communal giving, throughout the month—during which more than 1,000 giving circle members across 250 giving circles, as well as supporters and leaders, gathered for the very first time.

If you believe—and I sure hope you do—that philanthropy in a diverse and changing society must be far more than contributions of big sums of money by rich white guys, then I urge you to learn more about and be inspired by the giving circle movement.

What’s your experience with Giving Circles? We welcome hearing your view – lease your comments on the blog.

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