Giving Circles: a great way to grow giving

By Anita Gallagher, Training Lead at HIPGive

Giving Circles are a growing feature of the philanthropy landscape in the US and more are beginning to emerge throughout Latin America.  Throughout May 2021, Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP) was a proud sponsor of the “WeGive Summit”, the largest convening of Giving Circle participants to date. Join us on a quick tour of the giving circle movement and find out how this growing movement relates to your work.

What are Giving Circles? 

Giving circles are groups of people who come together to make change by pooling their time and money, deciding as a circle which causes to support and why. Arguably people have been doing this for years, but the rise of geography-based, faith-based and other like-minded circles that organize in person and also online, granting ever larger amounts of money, has catapulted the concept into the 21st century. 

How do they work? 

There is no standard format for a giving circle. Some operate informally as small groups akin to a monthly book club where the topic of discussion is not literature but social change and how to best achieve it.  Others are large, highly professional groups orchestrating multiple grant cycles each year. What they have in common is a basic process in which people come together, commit to making a personal donation, discuss and debate which groups to support and collectively make a decision on who should receive the funds. 

Who takes part in Giving Circles? 

Philanthropy Together’s directory now lists 2,000+ giving circles, of which over 1,600 are in the US and have at least 46,000 members. But the numbers tell only a small part of the story, since  the real depth of the giving circle movements lies in its diversity. Some circles are place-based serving a particular region, such as the Women Givers of Northeast North Carolina, while others cross borders, which is the idea behind the“Círculos de Dar” run by Amigos de San Cristobal to help people from all across Mexico and the US give back to Chiapas. Other circles are based in companies or bring together people from similar professional backgrounds, such as circles based in the tech world. Many circles are forged from shared religious beliefs, including the numerous Jewish circles, and a large number are initiatives led by and for women, people of colour, indigenous people or LGBTQIA+ communities. 

Why is this different to traditional philanthropy? 

At a time when philanthropy is perceived by many as a privilege of the rich, giving circles are democratizing philanthropy by challenging stereotypes and encouraging more people to get involved in giving. According to the Collective Giving Research Group, giving circle membership results in donors who give more and give to a wider array of organizations, and circles are viewed by many as a way to empower marginalized groups and “expand social justice and equity in philanthropy” (Carboni & Eikenberry, 2021). What’s more, circle members not only expand their giving, the interactions and choices along the way help them evaluate giving through new lenses and use deliberative decision making. In other words, “giving circles offer a way forward toward more inclusionary and democratic practice.” (Michael Layton, 2021).

Giving circles and crowdfunding: is there a crossover?  

“There’s more in common than you might think,” contends Junueth Mejía, HIPGive’s manager. For example, both giving circles and crowdfunding campaigns encourage individuals to take action on the issues that matter most to them, by giving what they can.  In addition, while most people think of crowdfunding as digital, and giving circles as in-person, digital services are incredibly useful to giving circles in all stages of the process, from scouting organizations, to enabling voting and, of course, online payments. “We’re really excited about how HIPGive can further our mission to strengthen Latinx participation in philanthropy by supporting and growing the Giving Circle movement in Latin America,” says Junueth. 

Find out more about Giving Circles at www.philanthropytogether.org. If you know of a Latinx Giving Circle in your country or community, let us know! We’d love to learn more about their work.