We Are Unstoppable: Giving Circles Organize Into a Movement

Marcia Quinones, member of East Bay Latina Giving Circle. (Photo credit: Latino Community Foundation)

Giving circles bring people together to practice collective philanthropy. In the same spirit, representatives of giving circles and giving circle networks across the U.S. are now convening to build power. In April 2019, 82 members of dozens of giving circles in the U.S. met for two days in Seattle, Washington, to share stories, hopes and plans for building a stronger giving circle movement. Women are playing a leading role in these efforts.

Giving Circles Grow and Set Goals

Giving circles allow friends, neighbors, families and people with religious, civil, cultural and other connections to learn about issues of shared concern and decide where to donate their money. They are usually created by women and/or members of ethnic minority, LGBTQ or other marginalized groups — those who typically hold a lesser share of power and money in the U.S. — though many open their doors to anyone with common values. Women make up most of their members.

These philanthropic clubs are often housed at community foundations and tend to address local needs, but some do focus on national or international causes. Along with direct grantmaking, giving circles are known to serve as a springboard for members to become more civically engaged in their local communities.

A 2016 study found giving circles had tripled in number since 2007, rising to 1,500. The researchers estimated the giving circles in their database had granted up to $1.29 billion in total since their inception. Giving circles engage tens of thousands of people and dole out tens of millions annually.

giving circles for women
Giving circle representatives at the April 2019 convening. (Photo credit: Gates Archive / Bruce Tom)

“Giving circles are a major part of the future of American philanthropy… people are coming together, pooling their money, networks, and expertise, and investing in the change they want to make in the world,” Marsha Morgan, chair of the Community Investment Network (a network of African-American circles) said in a statement.

The Community Investment Network and four other giving circle networks are in the midst of a yearlong “co-design process” for the entire movement, tied into the April event for the broader giving circle community. The other four leading networks are Amplifier, which centers on Jewish values; the Asian Women Giving Circle; Catalist (formerly the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network); and the Latino Community Foundation (LCF), which is home to the largest Latino giving circle network in the U.S.

“There is a rich history of generosity and collective action in our diverse communities. We are learning to look to each other for investments, and that’s powerful,” LCF CEO, Jacqueline Martinez Garcel, tells Philanthropy Women.

Following the recent gathering, the leaders released a shared vision with five general goals. They are, in short, to increase public awareness of giving circles, develop more trainings and resources on democratizing philanthropy, create an incubator program for new and developing circles, support new tech that can connect circles with each other and grantees, and begin hosting more regional and national convenings.

Giving Circles as Vehicles for Feminist Philanthropy

Starting in 2018, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation led the support for this giving circle collaborative design process and event, along with 19 other funders including institutional philanthropies, giving circles, networks and members. Given that most giving circles are primarily made up of women, this support aligns with the Gates foundation’s, and particularly Melinda Gates’, increased focus on women’s needs and gender equity in the last few years, both in the U.S and abroad. Melinda Gates’ recently published book, The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World, explores these issues through a personal lens, with a special focus on the importance of women’s health and education in low and middle-income countries.

Fittingly, many women-centric giving circles took part in the spring event, including For Her: A Black Women Giving Movement for Black Girls, the Women’s Catalytic Fund, Dining for Women, the Inspired Women Paying It Forward Network and others.

At LCF, one of the five leaders of this movement, the majority of staff members are women, as are most of the more than 500 members of its 21 giving circles. Marcia Quinones of the East Bay Latina Giving Circle, which is part of LCF, tells us how and why giving circles work for women:

Since the beginning of time, women have come together in circles to make magic, support our communities and heal one another. Giving circles are our modern day solution to the challenges all women are experiencing today in our communities — isolation, a feeling of helplessness, and a lack of opportunity to lead and voice our own visions. When we come together, we are unstoppable.


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Author: Julia Travers

I often cover innovations in science, the arts and social justice. Find my work with NPR, Discover Magazine, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. My portfolio is at jtravers.journoportfolio.com.

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