Wondering how you and your friends can make a greater difference in your community? A founding member of Sacramento Women’s Action Network, Pam Giarrizzo, explains how creating a giving circle can increase your collective charitable impact.
Do you worry about the challenges facing your community and wonder how you can help? Are you looking for a way to have a greater impact with your charitable giving? Do you have like-minded friends who share your concerns? If you answered these questions in the affirmative, you may want to start a giving circle, described by one journalist as “the philanthropic equivalent of a book club.”
According to the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, “a giving circle is formed when individuals come together and pool their dollars, decide together where to donate their collective contributions, and learn together about their community and philanthropy.” There are many different types of giving circles. Some focus on a particular issue, such as helping foster youth or people experiencing homelessness. Others form a type of auxiliary group to raise funds for a specific organization, like their local library or a children’s hospital. The giving circle I’m involved with chooses a different local organization to help each month.
If you are interested in organizing a giving circle in your community, here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Invite your members.
Make a list of people you know who care about the kinds of issues you care about. Maybe they volunteer with local organizations, or head up the fundraising efforts for your child’s school or some other cause. Send a note or call each person on the list and explain your idea for a giving circle. Chances are you’ll have a number of friends who would love to be part of such an effort.
2. Decide on your venue.
For the initial meeting, you may want to invite people to your home. Serve drinks and light snacks, and be prepared to explain the giving circle concept. If people like the idea and want to be part of the circle, the group can help figure out the time and place for future meetings. I have found that sticking to a regular schedule is important to the group’s success. People are busy and it helps if they know in advance exactly when meetings will occur.
3. Choose your cause.
This is the fun part. Who do you want to give your donations to? Chances are that the members of your new giving circle will have a variety of philanthropic interests. Will you choose just one, or will you share your generosity among multiple organizations? Do you plan to give locally, or do you want your donations to help people all over the world? Allow plenty of time at your inaugural meeting to decide on what your group’s mission will be and brainstorm about what types of organizations you want to receive your donations.
4. Select your leadership team and establish your rules.
Very little bureaucracy is involved in organizing a giving circle, but you’ll still need someone to run the meetings, send out meeting notices, and mail off the donations to whichever organizations are chosen as your beneficiaries. At your first meeting, figure out what tasks will need to be done and decide who will do them. Other things the group will need to decide include the process for choosing the donation recipients, and whether you will require a minimum donation amount from giving circle members.
5. Choose your name.
While it’s not absolutely necessary to have a name for your giving circle, it helps provide a sense of identity when sending off your group’s donations.
Here’s an example of how the giving circle that I’m affiliated with works. We meet in the evening at a local restaurant on the third Thursday of every month except November and December. The group discusses a different issue at each meeting, such as children, women, the environment, mental health, etc. Any member may present a local organization in that month’s category for the group’s consideration.
After everyone who wants to has had an opportunity to make a presentation, the members vote on which organization to support. Each member then writes a personal check in whatever amount they choose to the organization that receives the most votes, and all the checks are bundled off in one envelope to the organization. You can imagine the surprise and delight experienced by those working at the chosen organization when they receive an envelope full of unsolicited and unexpected donations.
Giving circles bring inspiration and kindness to a world that often seems lacking in both. Giving with friends is not only an opportunity for you to spend time with people you like, but it’s a chance for you, in the words of Mahatma Gandhi, to be the change you wish to see in the world.
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