Allow us to reiterate something you already know: You will always accomplish more within a group of people than you ever could on your own. Which, it just so happens, is exactly why giving circles exist.
Giving circles support nonprofits and other community-based organizations by pooling time, money, and resources together. Rather than individuals donating small amounts to the causes they care about, they gather with like-minded people in their community to make a larger impact.
Many times, a giving circle's value extends beyond cash donations. It's not uncommon for circle members to volunteer their time or help raise awareness for a community project. Below, we'll explain what a giving circle is, and how to start one to better support your cause.
What are giving circles, exactly?
Put simply, a giving circle is a group of individuals who come together to support the causes they care about. Typically, a giving circle will conduct regular meetings where they discuss how their time, money, and resources should be spent supporting local charities. They'll also organize group volunteer activities and raise awareness for various issues within their community.
A giving circle network comes together based on their desire to give back to their communities.
They're often made up of friends or neighbors with shared interests, who want to support and expand various local nonprofits.
The history of giving circles 👯
While the term giving circle is relatively new, the practice has been around for centuries. According to Philanthropy Together, a Givebutter expert, giving circles increased from just 50 small groups in 1995 to 2,000 organizations in 2020 (tripling in the period between 2007 and 2016 alone). In the United States, giving circles have rallied over 150,000 people to contribute over $1.3 billion to charitable organizations.
Giving circles have taken on different forms throughout the course of history. In West Africa and the Caribbean, susu is a system of group economics where community members contribute and distribute funds (known as a "hand") to the wider collective. In the United States, mutual aid societies, credit unions, and even self-help groups have benefited a wide range of individuals since the 1700s.
By the 1990s, the giving circle movement was on the rise—even if certain acts of community philanthropy weren't labeled as giving circles. For example, according to Philanthropy New York, the aftermath of 9/11 was the single largest act of collective charitable giving to date, with over $1 billion donated to charitable causes. Two organizations—the United Way of New York City and the New York Community Trust—raised $425 million for the September 11th Fund alone.
Giving circles today ✊
Today, giving circles weigh heavily on individual donors' identity, interests, and geographical location. The Collective Giving Research Group's study finds that 84% of giving circles offer grants directly to their local community, where only a small number offer grants internationally or even state-wide.
Women's philanthropy makes up the majority of giving circles, with 70% of groups reporting that females make up more than half their membership.
Lastly, many giving circles are tied directly to members' race, sexual orientation, or background, with many Jewish, Black, Latino, Asian-American and Pacific Islander, and LGBTQ+ groups established.
Giving circles can be formal or informal, with grantees being a registered 501(c) nonprofit organization or even a school, sports team, or local club. In addition, giving circles can be supported by organized community foundations, or they might take on a more grassroots approach.
How to launch a giving circle to support your cause
You don't need a large group of people or plenty of capital to start a giving circle. Instead, all you need is a little structure and a desire to make an impact in your community. If you and your neighbors, friends, colleagues, or other philanthropists want to establish a giving circle, follow these steps:
1. Establish a goal 📌
What is the goal of your partnership? What impact do you want to create? Gather circle participants together and discuss your shared vision, values, and mission. Once these are decided, you can come together to establish the following:
- The name of your organization
- Your goals for the next 3 months, 6 months, and one year
- The types of organizations you want to support
2. Decide on your structure 📖
Your giving circle can be as informal as you wish. However, to ensure you reach the goals set in item #1, you might want to establish a loose structure to your meetings. Decide how often (and where) you want to meet, how you want to collect funds, and whether you need to elect any officers/assign roles for your group (such as a treasurer).
Other items to consider include:
- Where will you place individual checks and contributions (for example, will you open a joint bank account or will you establish a formal public foundation)?
- Will you set a minimum dollar amount each member should contribute? Will you limit the size of your organization, or accept anyone who is willing to participate?
- How do you want to get involved in your community beyond cash donations? For example, perhaps you want to throw fundraising events, volunteer your time, or invite experts to come and speak at your meetings.
3. Expand your presence 📣
Now that you have your mission and structure to your circle established, it's time to amplify your message. Over time, potential members, volunteers, and grantees will want to learn more about your organization. Or perhaps your friends or colleagues might want to contribute a one-time donation, even when hesitant to become a full-time member.
Your ability to establish an online presence will weigh heavily on the time and availability of your members. To help amplify your message, consider taking the following actions:
- Create a website explaining who you are, what you do, and why you do it. Be sure to embed a donation form to collect one-off donations.
- Create an email list so you can get in touch with your network when you host fundraising events or are looking for an extra set of volunteers. If possible, use an email automation platform that syncs seamlessly with your fundraising platform to easily collect email addresses.
- Create one social account to share photos of volunteering events, news articles centered on the causes you care about, or statistics explaining your community impact. Tip: Don't overwhelm your group by establishing a presence on every platform—instead, choose one and post on a consistent schedule.
4. Launch a recruiting program 📞
Your ability to impact your community is highly dependent on the size and commitment to your members. Translation: When it comes to collective giving, "the more the merrier," has never been more true.
Consider launching a recruiting program, finding others who want to make a difference in your community. To do so, consider the following options:
- Create a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign with existing members. Have each team leader follow up with their first-time donors, asking if they'd like to join your organization.
- Throw a BAF (bring-a-friend) night, where each member brings one guest to your monthly meeting.
- Host a webinar where you explain what your organization does and your community impact to-date. Or, perhaps you live stream your latest fundraising event and take questions from the audience, explaining what it's like to be a member.
Launch your community giving circle on Givebutter
A giving circle allows individual philanthropists to come together to support the causes they care about.
Together, giving circles help raise funds, volunteer their time, and serve as an amplifier for local charities.
To help recruit new members and ultimately grow your membership, establish your giving circle on Givebutter. Givebutter is the world’s first free all-in-one platform that allows you to create your own fundraising page, reach new members through SMS and email automation, and recruit new donors through a built-in CRM platform. With 130+ features at your fingertips, it's the easiest way to establish a giving circle.
Ready to launch your giving circle and make an impact in your community? Sign up for your free Givebutter account to get started.
Kylie thrives on supporting others, going above and beyond every task, making everyone’s jobs easier, and cinnamon in her coffee.