Enrolling Now: Launchpad, a Giving Circles Incubator

By any measure, giving circles are one of the biggest growth areas in philanthropy. It’s no accident that giving circles are heavily female, and women of color are involved in giving circles at much higher rates than they are in traditional modes of philanthropic giving.

Participants pose for a group photo during the Giving Circle Infrastructure Conference at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington on April 1, 2019. (Image Credit: Philanthropy Together)

A simple giving circle definition from Philanthropy Together: “Giving Circles are groups of all shapes and sizes collaborating for change: like-minded individuals come together to pool their funds, share and discuss the issues that matter to them, and decide together where to give their money, time, and talents.” Giving circles enable individuals to leverage modest individual donations into a critical mass. They are by definition participatory, and the power of the collective provides individuals greater input and influence than were they giving in isolation.

Philanthropy Together places special emphasis on the role of traditionally underrepresented communities, noting:

The landscape of philanthropy is shifting, and collective giving will continue to play a transformational role in bringing in many more — and more representative — everyday donors to the table to create equitable communities: people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ people, different giving capacities, youth, people in rural communities, religious minorities, and many, many more.

A cornerstone of giving circles has been the premium placed on collaboration and personal interaction. In the COVID-19 era this is not happening in person; regardless, there is strong interest in giving circles, and new ones are always being formed. With this in mind, Philanthropy Together’s Executive Director Sara Lomelin has announced the creation of Launchpad, a “virtual incubator” for giving circles.

The incubator will comprise five training sessions held over Zoom in June and July, and will include practical, hands-on tips, strategies, and tricks to launch a giving circle. According to Philanthropy Together, “After Launchpad, folks will have a clear tangible plan and materials to get started. Being part of Launchpad is getting to know a group of changemakers ready to have an impact in the community.”

The summer’s virtual sessions—consisting of a 90-minute kick-off event and four one-hour skills-based trainings—are aimed at individuals and small groups. Philanthropy Together will hold giving circle sessions for institutions such as community foundations later this year. The deadline for Launchpad applications is June 1, and sessions will begin on June 8. Launchpad is designed to be affordable and accessible, and features a pay-what-you-want model, with a suggested donation of $50.

Sara Lomelin, a graduate of Mexico City’s Ibero-American University, became Philanthropy Together’s Executive Director in April. She has experience in the private and non-profit sectors, including senior leadership roles at the Bay Area non-profits the Opportunity Fund (a micro-lender to under-served small businesses) and the Latino Community Foundation. In addition to offering help to aspiring giving circle members, Philanthropy Together is itself hiring a Partnerships & Development Manager, and a Marketing & Community Coordinator.

COVID-19 has profoundly affected philanthropy, but because they are nimble and grass-roots based, giving circles may be particularly effective in addressing new challenges posed by COVID, as well as continuing to address ongoing needs, some of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Giving Compass has provided seven ideas outlining how giving circles can adapt to the needs of those hit hardest by the pandemic.Philanthropy Women has been active in covering the evolution and growth of giving circles over the last several years. PW has published over 20 articles on giving circles, including:

Expanding the Ripple Effect: Giving Circles Convene on Equity, Inclusion

New Latina Giving Circle Debuts at Texas Women’s Foundation

Giving Circles Get New Attention from The Rhode Island Foundation

Ripple Effect: Longtime Expert to Cultivate Giving Circles Worldwide

Refresh and Pour Into One Another: Black Women Giving in Omaha

Women’s Giving Circles In the News

The Butterfly Effect: Tracking the Growth of Women’s Funds

New Microgrants Cultivate Collective Giving

Another Women’s Giving Circle is Born: Waterbury Giving Circle Makes Inaugural Grants

Find Out How Giving Circles Are Gaining Ground

Third Wave Fund’s Sex Worker Giving Circle Announces First Grantees

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Philanthropy Women covers funding for gender equity in all sectors of society. We want to significantly shift public discourse, particularly in philanthropy, toward increased action for gender equality. You can support our work and access unlimited and premium content with one of our subscriptions.


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Author: Tim Lehnert

Tim Lehnert is a writer and editor who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. His articles and essays have appeared in the Boston Globe, the Providence Journal, Rhode Island Monthly, the Boston Herald, the Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. He is the author of the book Rhode Island 101, and has published short fiction for kids and adults in a number of literary journals and magazines. He received an M.A. in Political Science from McGill University, and an M.A. in English from California State University, Northridge.

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