synergy

Small donation...MAJOR impact

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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.

2013 Grantees

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.

Get Involved:

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.

New opportunities for cause collaboration

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Non-profit organizations grew out of early social welfare roots. People driven primarily by moral beliefs fed the poor, took care of the sick, and took in orphans. These groups became more specialized and structured and eventually the non-profit organization was born from legal tax classifications. The mission was the seed and still comes first. Conversely, business is rooted in the ability to make a profit; to earn a living by providing goods and services to customers. There was even a possibility of striking it rich with the next big idea. The financial bottom line was the seed and is still the common metric by which all businesses are measured by.

Despite very different roots, business and mission have always shared a symbiotic relationship. Mission-driven organizations create desirable communities, providing medical care and hospitals, animal welfare and clean-up services, safety nets and religion. Ultimately, non-profits lay the foundation for a dependable workforce for employers.  Businesses in turn provide financial support, in-kind donations, and leadership for non-profit governing boards.

Over the years the boundaries between business and mission have blurred. Businesses have increasingly integrated sustainability into their models and more and more non-profits are being managed by experienced business leaders. More recently, the intermingling has spurred hybrids, creating for-profit organizations with a mission.

Social enterprises have been cropping up for years, but have only recently become recognized in their ability to apply business strategies to tackle social and environmental challenges in just the past few years. The low-profit limited liability corporation, or "L3C", was first created out of Vermont legislation in 2008. Nine states has since adopted similar legislation, allowing business with a purpose to take advantage of flexible LLC laws while also qualifying for "program-related investments" from private foundations.

The benefit corporation, or "B-corp", was born in 2010 when Maryland first passed legislation recognizing this pairing of business with community impact. Unlike traditional business, benefit corporations have a formal purpose to have a "material positive impact" on society and the environment. Their hands are not tied to make decisions that deliver the greatest financial return for the shareholder. As of this writing, 19 states have passed B-corp legislation.

These new models represent giant steps toward solving pressing social challenges...if we work together. Because regardless of how smart, creative or passionate any one of us is, together we create synergy that takes advantage of diverse strengths, expertise, and experience.

Share your best practices. Start a think tank on a shared goal. Reach out to potential partners. Invite new, crazy ideas. Just don't stick your head in the sand and plow forward with the ways you've always done things, or conversely blaze what you think is a brand new trail based out of entrepreneurial ego. Cause collaboration and innovation has never been more accessible or fruitful.