Giving Circles Gain Infrastructure Support from Big Funders

Giving circle networks are getting anchor support from big funders including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in order to grow giving circle activity across America.

With the advent of new technologies to accelerate donating money and distributing grants, giving circles are the cutting edge of how many communities are finding and funding their causes. Now, a significant group of giving circles and funders are coming together to enhance the potential for giving circles to impact the philanthropy landscape.

This new partnership is led by five giving circles and collective giving networks, many of which bring unique social and cultural foci to the collaboration.  These five networks are coming together to “engage dozens of stakeholders across the philanthropic sector to design efficient and effective infrastructure to scale and strengthen the American giving circle movement.”

How are these giving circles finding the resources to grow the American giving circle movement? From some of the largest and most powerful funders in today’s philanthropy landscape. These funders include “Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, The Lodestar Foundation, Delores Barr Weaver, and Global Impact,” according to a press release announcing the project.

According to the Collective Giving Research Group, giving circles are a growing phenomenon in the United States, with the number of giving circles tripling over the past two decades to more than 1,500 in 2016. The research also shows that giving circles are responsible for as much as $1.29 billion in giving, and currently engage $150,000 people in the U.S.

The Five Giving Circles/Networks participating in this new collaboration are:

Amplifier:  Advisory Board Member Felicia Herman is leading her organization’s involvement in this new collaboration. Amplifier’s mission is to “grow the movement of intentional, collaborative giving by building and sustaining giving circles inspired by Jewish values.”

Asian Women Giving Circle & Faces of Giving:  Hali Lee is the contributing partner in this new collaboration. Asian Women Giving Circle is  “first and largest giving circle in the nation led by Asian American women.”  Lee is also a co-founder of Faces of Giving, which seeks to organize and empower giving in “minority, ethnic, immigrant and new American communities.” 

Catalist:  Catalist is the newly branded Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network (WCGN).  Paula Liang, Vice-Chair of Catalist, will be representing Catalist in this new partnership. Catalist is a national network representing over 60 collective giving groups in the U.S. and Australia.

Community Investment Network: CIN is a national network of giving circles working to cultivate giving leadership in communities of color in order to influence mainstream philanthropy.  CIN Chair Marsha Morgan will be working with the new giving circle project.

Latino Giving Circle Network : Comprised of 18 giving circles, LGCN describes itself as “the largest network of Latino donors united by a shared sense of justice and generosity.” Sara Velten, Vice President of Philanthropy for LGCN, will be engaging with this initiative.

Bringing in the Big Funders 

Anchor funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for this initiative is a great indicator of how the large foundation may be pivoting further in the direction of feminist philanthropy. Readers of Philanthropy Women will recall that The Gates Foundation recently hosted both Women Moving Millions and the Women’s Funding Network in Seattle, in order to further explore and support strategies around gender-based giving. The Gates Foundation’s commitment to this new effort for giving circles suggests that the organization is being further influenced in the direction of democratizing philanthropy and making it part of the experience of more people. This new support also suggests that the Gates Foundation is funding multiple strategies to support giving by women. Research shows that giving circles are heavily female-dominated, with women leading 640 of the 706 giving circles surveyed by the University of Indiana in 2017.

Discovering and Capitalizing on Giving Circles

Donors, including large foundations, are discovering that starting a giving circle is a great way to infuse more money into the causes they care about.  Simultaneously, women’s philanthropy is growing in new directions, and one catalyst for this growth is women’s giving circles.

A prime example of a donor building out terrain in giving circles is Delores Barr Weaver, one of the funders of this new giving circle infrastructure-building project. Barr Weaver is one of five founders of the Women’s Giving Alliance of Jacksonville, a 473-member giving circle initiated by The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida. Barr Weaver is also a Women Moving Millions member, and is invested in advancing rights for girls and young women in her community, particularly those at-risk because of juvenile justice or child protective issues.

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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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