Source 4: What is a Giving Circle?
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Source 4: What is a Giving Circle?


A Way for Everyone to Donate

By Leah Dobkin

Giving circles give ordinary people the chance to leverage their charitable donation into something bigger.

The result can be a great source of funding for your nonprofit.

Giving circles are similar to investment circles, but instead of investing in companies, members invest in nonprofits. Members pool their donations, learn about community issues, and make collective funding decisions based on their priorities.

Circles vary in size, structure, and formality. They range from a handful of neighbors hosting “parties with a purpose” to 500 members creating a new nonprofit to facilitate the giving circle’s activities.

Most giving circles are hosted by a community or public foundation. Members typically give $300 to $1,000 annually and issue grants ranging from $100 to $100,000.

Most are relatively new, having started only in the last five to ten years. At least 44 states and the District of Columbia have giving circles.

The Power of Collective Giving

Giving circles aren’t small potatoes in the garden of philanthropy. The Washington, DC based Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers estimates they have given more than $100 million and engaged at least 12,000 donors since 2004. 

The Giving Circles Network, Centreville, VA, estimates the number of circles has more than doubled since 2004 to well over 800 groups in 2009.

More than just writing a check, members of giving circles are fully engaged in helping to solve problems. In fact, a Forum study found that among giving circle members:

  • 65% volunteer at the nonprofit they support
  • 43% join boards of grantee organizations
  • 35% provide additional fundraising support by encouraging friends and colleagues to donate

Because giving circle members cultivate a deeper, more meaningful giving experience, their commitment to nonprofits tends to be stronger and more enduring.

Tapping Circles for Aging Services

Giving circles support a wide range of programs and issues. So far, aging has not been a priority for most. That makes them a prime untapped resource for nonprofit aging service organizations. 

The Giving Circle of Hope (GCH) is one exception. A component fund of the Northern Virginia Community Foundation, GCH has grown from four members in January 2004 to more than 100 today. Members contribute a minimum of $1 per day, or $365 per year.

GCH has awarded more than $300,000 in grants and performed more than 3,500 hours of volunteer service. Examples include:

  • A seed grant to the Shepherd’s Center of Vienna, VA, to bring NCOA’s The Open Road documentary about the impact of the aging population to individuals, agencies, and businesses.

  • A grant to the Alzheimer’s Family Day Center to offer extra programs for individuals with dementia, including music and art. 

  • A team of volunteers for Christmas in April/RebuildingTogether projects and holiday parties in long-term care facilities. 

Washington Womenade is another example of a productive giving circle. Up to 80 members attend monthly potlucks, bringing along food, friends, and new people each time.

“It’s a revolving guest list, and you don’t have to be a member. You just come to the party,” says Lisa Herrick, founder of Womenade Giving Circle.

Womenade raised $3,500 at its first potluck and doubled it at the second. The group generally raises $6,000 to $7,000 each time. Every dollar raised goes directly to people in need. It has since inspired Womenade chapters throughout the United States.

“When it started it was a no-brainer,” Herrick says. “It was so concrete. It was so satisfying. It’s really easy and fun and doesn’t require any bureaucracy. Our mission is simple: to enjoy our women friends in wonderful, warm, and lively parties, while bringing money from those who have, to some who have not.”

Just imagine if nonprofit aging services could tap into that kind of spirit?

Leah Dobkin is a freelance writer with over 30 years experience developing and managing innovative programs for older adults.  


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