It's easy to become so overwhelmed by the enormity of the social problems we care about to become apathetic and do nothing. The amount we have to give seems too small to make any real difference. A mechanism that turns that mentality on its head is gaining increasing popularity across the nation: giving circles.
Giving circles bring everything together to make giving easy, informed, social, and impactful, which is how giving ought to be experienced. By 2007, there were at least 400 giving circles nationwide, engaging more than 12,000 donors, and having given nearly $100 Million.
The basic premise: Small donations collectively fund larger, more impactful gifts decided by members. The magic is in the connections to a community rallying around a cause. A 2009 study of giving circles revealed that members give more, give more strategically, and are more engaged in their communities.
Giving Circles create opportunities to network with people who share your values, learn more about your cause, and become informed on the diverse nonprofits working to create solutions. These organizations are often volunteer-run, ensuring that all, or very nearly all, of your donation goes to your cause.
Importantly for the nonprofits, a larger grant from a giving circle means more than just funding. They gain valuable exposure to individuals who give through the process of deciding the grant and have the opportunity to gain additional exposure through media coverage.
A Peek Inside:
I recently became a member of the Utah Women's Giving Circle. The concept simply made sense to me, but I never expected the experience to be so informative and meaningful.
This last Tuesday, we came together to vote to distribute $20,000, with a ballot of 12 nonprofit organizations. I am already embedded in the nonprofit sector in Utah, but I was completely unaware of several of the organizations on the list prior to the voting process.
However, the point where the awards were announced was what converted me into a lifetime advocate.
With representatives from the nonprofits present, the excitement and tension in the room was tangible. The response from these nonprofit leaders was an experience I will never forget.
These critical organizations in our community didn't have to go begging for these dollars and they didn't have to search out our group and complete a tedious application to receive highly restricted funding. We simply invited them to complete a one-page application and then join us for a party in their honor, where we would vote and award the grants live.
That set the stage for a powerful evening centered around community, rather than competition and scarcity.
The positive swell of excitement and appreciation provided enormous reinforcement as a donor, a thousand times beyond a thank you card following a check. I have no doubt that lifetime donors were created in those interactions. The physical connection to the people who are so passionate about our shared cause left an indelible mark.
While women's giving circles are the most prevalent and could probably take credit for creating this movement around collective giving, a variety of diverse causes and groups have utilized the concept to make a major impact.
If there isn't a giving circle near you that addresses a cause you care about, you should consider starting one. All you need is a fiscal sponsor so that donations are tax-deductible (your local community foundation is a great option) and a few friends or family members who share your ideals.
It's literally that easy, which is why the giving circle movement is only going to continue to gain momentum.
Learn more via multiple reports and resources, including 10 Basic Steps to Starting a Giving Circle and tools for community foundations and nonprofits interested in hosting giving circles: Regional Associations of Grantmakers' Giving Circles Knowledge Center.