As collective giving continues to explode in popularity, more representative voices are engaging in philanthropy through giving circles. According to the Collective Giving Research Group, more than 150,000 people in the U.S. have engaged in giving circles over the past two decades, contributing more than $1.3 billion dollars to good causes!
So what accounts for this growth, and why now?
Why start a giving circle?
More and more changemakers are embracing the giving circle movement because it reflects on the powerful idea that we can make a much deeper impact together than we can alone. Rather than a top-down approach, giving circles center community, collective agency, local impact, diverse viewpoints, and bridging differences.
For those who need a refresher, a giving circle is a group with shared values that gathers, builds community, and creates belonging. They discuss a common vision and engage in discourse and learning.
In a giving circle, everyone has a voice and decides together where to give their money, time, and talent—and give with trust at the root. In giving circles, the giving doesn’t end with a transaction. Circle members act in abundance and engage beyond their gift for amplified impact.
As Philanthropy Together CEO Sara Lomelin explains in her 2022 TED Talk, “Your Invitation to Disrupt Philanthropy,”
It’s not about the money or the amount of money given; it’s about the beloved communities that are created when a group comes together and builds relationships with each other and with the nonprofits they give to.
Giving circles uplift local communities to make change on their own terms, and their growth is sparking a sea change across philanthropy. When more diverse people become philanthropists, more diverse solutions and nonprofit leaders get funded.
Start your own giving circle in 4 simple steps
Ready to spark change in your community? Follow these steps to launch a thriving giving circle.
Step 1: Find your founding team 👋
A giving circle’s founding team is a group of 2–5 passionate individuals who come together to build a foundation together. This process includes co-creating your circle’s vision, mission, and values.
Creating community is the first (and most important!) step to starting a giving circle. Together, you can each hold one another accountable and turn ideas into action.
To get started, brainstorm a list of people you think would be interested in creating change. These can be friends, neighbors, colleagues, family members—anyone you believe would be a good fit.
Reach out and share your idea for starting a giving circle and invite them to collaborate with you. Engage in deep conversations to further explore their interest. Once you have even just one person excited, you can then use the power of their networks. Ask committed members to reach out to people in their lives who may be interested in being part of the founding team.
Step 2: Dig into your “why” and shared values 💛
The heart of a giving circle experience is understanding the values that motivate you and others to give. There are endless reasons why people engage in collective giving or work with others to create community change. Once you’ve gathered your founding team, dig into your “why” by discussing your shared values and what issues matter most to you.
Your giving circle’s values will act as a guide for all elements of its philanthropic journey. They will be the foundation of your group's culture, shaping how decisions are made, the circle's membership, what the circle does (and does not) stand for, which causes and organizations the group supports, and how members interact with grantees. By establishing your shared values, your team can create a shared vision for your giving circle.
Here’s a simple process you can follow to start the conversation about shared values:
1. Ask each member of the group to share two values that describe why and/or how they give.
2. Look at each person’s responses. Are some values coming up more often than others? Can clusters of similar values come together under one value or sentiment? The top 3-5 values move forward.
3. Make sure to give everyone the opportunity to have the floor and ask questions if necessary.
4. Once you’ve decided on your values, ask the group for ideas regarding how your giving circle will live these values.
Step 3: Decide on your circle vision and design 🔮
Every giving circle is designed uniquely. How often they meet, how much and how often they give, and how many members they have is all decided collaboratively as the founding team builds the foundation.
There is no right or wrong answer. It just has to be true to you.
When first getting started, you’ll want to determine some parameters based on your circle’s values. Some examples of parameters include:
- 👯 Size: How many members feels like the right fit for your circle?
- 🔎 Focus: What issue area (e.g., education or hunger) or specific community (e.g., LGBTQ+ or Black women) will your circle’s pooled funds support?
- 💸 Financial contributions: What will members’ minimum contribution be? How often will you collect donations? Will it be monthly, quarterly, or annually?
- 🔄 Giving cycle: How often will you make a gift?
One way to answer these questions is to put your vision at the forefront and work backward. What parameters do you need to put in place in order to achieve your shared vision?
Step 4: Launch your giving circle 🚀
Now that you have a vision for your giving circle, it’s time to launch more widely! Invite others to join your circle and grow your membership to begin the process of giving and making change collectively.
Free giving circle template and additional resources
Download this 10-page guide from Philanthropy Together to help you launch a successful giving circle. The prompts in this template will help you dive deeper into each of the steps outlined above. For even more inspiration, check out the Global Giving Circle Directory, a searchable and filterable database with giving circles from all over the world.
And remember Givebutter is here with hundreds of free fundraising and donor engagement tools as you plan your first cycles of giving. We can’t wait to see what kind of change your giving circle churns out this year! 🙌
Kyson Bunthuwong is an explorer of connections, design thinker, and a gritty optimist in the face of challenges.