by Leah Dobkin
A growing number of contemporary women are looking to meet like-minded people by participating in meaningful philanthropic efforts. The usual fundraising activities, such as organizing galas, are a lot of work and not particularly fulfilling for many. So, what’s the alternative if you are one of these women? The answer might be to consider starting or joining a giving circle.
WHAT IS A GIVING CIRCLE
A giving circle is a charitable collective where members with similar interests and passions pool their money to make a larger impact on their community through grants to nonprofit organizations. The group decides together which cause(s) on which to focus. Giving circles, which usually include a diverse mix of ages and ethnicity, can be created at any price point for any cause. Though men are welcome, the majority of giving circles are comprised of females.
Giving circles play to women’s strengths as networkers and collaborators. They offer a way for smaller donors to be part of something larger—but not so large they have no meaningful voice.
Angela Eikenberry, a professor and researcher of giving circles at the University of Nebraska, says, “These groups are emerging as traditional philanthropy becomes more bureaucratic,”. She adds, “Over the last decade, they are forming to make things more personal, giving directly to organizations where people live.”
With no rent or salaried staff, operating costs tend to be minimal. However, there are some accounting, bookkeeping and a few other miscellaneous costs.
WHY JOIN A GIVING CIRCLE?
With a long commute and hectic full-time job in Washington, D.C., Bronwyn Belling had little time to get to know her community of Annapolis, a suburb in Anne Arundel County. That changed significantly in 2006 when, approaching retirement, she joined a women’s giving circle with more than 200 members called Anne Arundel Women Giving Together (AAWGT). Since 2007, AAWGT has awarded grants totaling more than $1,000,000 to non-profit organizations to improve the quality of life for women and families.
“I have 200 wonderful new friends who are members of the giving circle,” says Belling. She adds, “Spending a lot of time with caring, smart and compassionate women has been an unexpected benefit for me.”
WHERE TO START
Interested in giving circles, but not sure where to start?
These 10 BASIC STEPS TO STARTING A GIVING CIRCLE provides guidelines to help set up your group.
In addition, national non-profit organizations, such as Catalist (catalistwomen.org), formerly Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers (WCGN), exist to help women’s collectives through monthly webinars and interactive discussion forums, in addition to a national conference. They share best practices about membership, grantmaking and governance to strengthen their organizations and ultimately their communities.
Catalist Founding board member, Laura Midley noted, “As we strive to help our organizations be more thoughtful, effective and significant in our grantmaking, we must begin with ourselves.” She adds, “The power of the collective is only as good as the sum of ourselves as individuals; we must bring our confident and vulnerable selves to an ever-expanding table.”
GLOBAL GIVING CIRCLES
Not all giving circles stay small. Some grow to the point where they have participants throughout the country and encourage people to either join an existing local group or start a new one with their help and support.
Dining for Women (DFW), which launched in 2003, is a wonderful example of a global giving circle, providing “a chance to socialize with substance”. It has 8,000 members in 409 chapters in 45 states. According to its website, this nonprofit is “dedicated to transforming lives and eradicating poverty among women and girls in the developing world…one woman, one girl, one dinner at a time.” Members host dinner parties, usually with food themed according to the country to which they are giving, and pledge to donate what they would have paid for the meal if they had dined out. Each month, the national DFW awards a grant between $35,000 to $50,000 to a nonprofit and also periodically selects previously funded nonprofits to award $20,000 a year for three years of ongoing support.
A NEW TYPE OF SISTERHOOD
There is nothing more powerful than young and old uniting for meaningful social change. These philanthropic collectives enrich not only communities but the lives of individual women by connecting them with other donors who inspire each other to learn more about their community needs, volunteer and lead with passion and purpose. It’s a new type of “sisterhood.”
Leah Dobkin is a writer, personal historian, gerontologist and founder of legacyletter.org. She offers writing services and workshops to help people, or their loved ones, craft a legacy letter, memoir or organizational history. She has contributed to Kiplinger’s Retirement Report, AARP and other regional, national and international magazines and websites.