(Liveblog) Leveraging the Unique Power of Women’s Collective Giving

Bright and early on Wednesday, January 27th, women from all over the country joined Sondra Shaw-Hardy and Carmen Stevens of Women’s Giving Circles International (WGCI) for a collaborative workshop on collective giving.

Sondra opened the event by welcoming the attendees and speakers, and introducing the day’s topics.

“The power of women’s philanthropy has changed not only the countries we live in, but changed us as well,” she said.

Carmen Stevens on Global Giving Circles

Carmen Stevens introduced the history of WGCI, which works to provide educational resources for women all over the world looking to start and grow their own giving circles. Primarily focused on circles outside of the United States, WGCI facilitates circle creation, networking, and mentorship all over the globe, but particularly in Latin America, Europe, and the organization’s most recent programs in Asia.

“Our circles make the most impact when they are specifically co-designed with the members of a community,” said Stevens. “We’re not here to be the philanthropist from the States telling you how to create your circle, but we’re here to lend our support and our history of creation to help you adapt [our learnings] to your community.”

Stevens went on to share the basic styles of giving circles, offering multiple examples from around the world. She stressed that broad, diverse, and inclusive membership is a critical component to success, as members work together “to serve the needs of women and girls.”

She referred to this concept as “democratizing philanthropy,” giving women opportunities for philanthropy together that they may not have individually.

Stevens also pointed out the differences in contribution level: Where giving circles in the United States often feature minimum contributions around $1,000, circles around the world run the gamut in financial contributions and gifting based on what will be the most effective for the individual community.

Creating Your Own Giving Circle

Stevens laid out a four-step process for creating a giving circle:

  • Define your purpose.
  • Invite members.
  • Determine your gifting amount(s) and cycle.
  • Grow your impact.

“When you’re starting to do women’s giving work, you want to keep in mind that everything around giving circles will be unique,” she said. “However, you’re going to want to have consensus about what you’re doing as a group.”

Stevens described the ways giving circles can start formally, but are also likely to grow out of informal, community-based events. For example, she referenced a giving circle that grew in Malawi after the same group of women met up to share meals and discuss their community’s needs — after a few meetings, the women realized they had a large group of women wanting to make a difference in their community. And thus, their giving circle was born.

“Recruitment of members is certainly important, but the education of women is also important,” said Stevens. “No approach is wrong — it’s up to what you want to do and how your members want to grow.”

Addressing the gift size and cycle, Stevens pointed out the importance of considering the local currency and impact of that currency. “What we consider a small amount of currency in the United States could be super impactful in another country,” Stevens said. “It’s important to be culturally sensitive in your giving goals and cycles as you build them.”

“The great thing is that if something isn’t working, you don’t have to stick with it,” she added. “You can make changes anytime you want, and anytime your membership wants to try something different to increase your impact.”

In the United States, the current estimate for currency contributed and moved by giving circles is $1.2 billion.

“And that’s really just the tip of the iceberg,” said Stevens. “We want to see the impact of giving circles counted and grown around the world.”

Maximizing Collective Giving with Impact Investment

Next, Ellen Remmer of Invest for Better took the state to discuss Investment Circles, a style of giving circle that focuses on impact investment rather than on charitable giving.

“Of course, philanthropy is essential, and working to shift the capital markets is essential too,” said Remmer. “The power of the markets — that’s what runs the current world we have. And women, frankly, are not at the table when that power is created.”

Invest for Better’s mission is to help women understand the power of investment assets, learn how to make those investments have the most impact, and align those investments with their goals and values.

When we look at the world’s social, economic, and justice issues, “there’s just not enough philanthropic dollars in the world to solve them,” says Remmer. Instead, she advocates for leveraging government dollars and the capital market to make a larger impact in the world.

She also addressed the “activation gap,” which refers to the gap between women who want to invest or make charitable contributions but do not actually take the steps to make that philanthropic/investment action happen.

Remmer’s solution is the investment circle, a group of 5-15 women led by 1-3 leaders who gather a few times a year to study flexible curriculum on impact investing, set goals, and work together to make investments with the greatest impact.

The difference here between an investment circle and a traditional giving circle is that investment circles elevate organizations and companies that serve values-based goals, while giving circles tend to focus on charitable organizations serving underserved communities.

Both styles of circle are focused on the greater good and making the widest impact, but where giving circles leverage collective giving to philanthropic organizations, investment circles leverage collective investing in companies that need market capital to grow and make an impact.

Currently, Invest for Better is developing investment circles kicking off in April 2021. You can learn more or apply to be a leader at www.investforbetter.org/join-us.

Lis Williams on AWE-thentic Social Impact

Next, Lis Williams of AWE Partners spoke to the ways women can make donations for the greatest social impact, particularly as women stand to inherit so much wealth in coming years.

AWE stands for “AWE-thentic Women Empowered.” AWE Partners help women who want to make an impact “go from confusion to clarity” when trying to invest or donate for social impact. Helping women leave a legacy and improve the world they leave behind, AWE believes in the power of the effect social impact can have on a woman’s life.

Williams calls this the “helper’s high,” offering deeper meaning and fulfillment in life for women who become changemakers, humanitarians, and philanthropists.

Williams also addressed the importance of not “over-giving,” which can result in resentment and burnout. “Social impact work can be tiring, frustrating, and it can take a long time to see results. We need you happy and whole,” she explained.

“We’re most effective when we show up from a place of love and compassion,” she added. “Working through those emotions of guilt, anger, and shame are the key to our effectiveness.”

Williams spoke to “inspired action,” which comes from a place of contemplation rather than impulsive giving or anger-based action. “Inspired action is the merging of the head, the heart, and the soul,” she said.

In order to “focus your efforts and be more effective,” Williams encouraged focusing on 1-3 areas of impact rather than trying to fix all the world’s problems at once.

AWE-thentic Impact Circles, like previous examples, are made up of 8-12 women over April to November. These groups take on self-paced educational courses as they build clarity and focus in their giving and leadership skills. Building on the “7 Pillars of Women’s Re-Powerment,” this year’s theme is “Women Supporting Women,” and the impact circles will be focused on organizations that support women and girls around the world.

It’s Not About “How Much,” It’s About What YOU Can Do

For younger women or women who want to make an impact but do not have the funds to make larger contributions, the speakers recommended looking to join giving circles at a lower membership level. In particular, Stevens recommended giving circles that offer partial sponsorship (or “sistership”) for lower-income participants to still make an impact. These women can join a group with a “partial” contribution that is then offset by a larger contribution from a more senior member of the circle.

“There are lots of faces here who are very much younger than me, but I want to see WAY younger faces than what we see here,” she added. “We have a responsibility to steward other women into this movement. That can be a very, very good thing if we work it right.”

“Everyone has something to give, and if you don’t have the treasure to share, you have the time and talent,” added Williams. “Time, treasure, and talent is what we’re here to share.”


To learn more about the participating organizations, visit the websites for AWE Partners, Invest for Better, and Women’s Giving Circles International.

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Author: Maggie May

Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist headquartered in Annapolis, MD and Philadelphia, PA. She has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.

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