Given America’s always-on culture, it might be easy to assume that our collective social ties and connections with friends, family, and community are thriving. But a recent report from Surgeon General Vivek Murthy found that one in two adult Americans suffer from loneliness.
According to the report, from 2003 to 2020, social isolation increased an average of 24 hours per month, while time spent with friends decreased an average of 20 hours per month. We are in an epidemic of loneliness and isolation.
Loneliness and disconnection from friends, family, and community can have lasting impacts on both individual and societal health. This epidemic of isolation underscores an urgent need for Americans of all backgrounds to meet new people, connect, and build community together. The good news is that as individuals, we have agency - and we can take steps to combat loneliness, connect with people, and even help others overcome their own feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Giving Circles Connect Purpose and Togetherness
If you’re among the millions of people who've been looking to make new friends and feel a sense of belonging with others, Giving Circles might be your answer. Also known as social philanthropy or collective giving, Giving Circles bring people together around a community or common cause and provide a vehicle through which the members pool their resources and donate to the nonprofits that champion their issue.
How It Works: One Popular Giving Circle Model
Here are four ways Giving Circles can help you meet new people and build community as you go.
1. Join a Giving Circle
Giving Circles exist all over the country, so do some research online to learn what’s happening in social philanthropy in your area. Grapevine and Philanthropy Together are great places to start, or you could enter the issue areas you’re passionate about directly into the search bar of the Global Giving Circle Directory. Depending on what turns up, it might be as straightforward as clicking a “Join” button on the group’s Grapevine page or emailing the organizer to get involved.
Giving Circles typically meet on a regular cadence - often monthly or quarterly - so get the next meeting on your schedule and gear up to attend. Making new friends takes effort and active participation, so attend the Giving Circle meetings regularly and don’t be afraid to jump in from the get-go. Since you’re joining a group with whom you share common interests, building relationships and making meaningful connections with new people will naturally happen. Think of how inspiring it will be to create real tangible impact with a group of new friends!
2. Start a Giving Circle
If you can’t find a circle that aligns with your interests, you could take a leap of faith and start your own! This takes a little more effort than joining an existing circle, but the rewards of building social capital and bringing people together are rich.
First, identify one or two folks who would be up for starting a circle with you, then hone in on the location or issue area (or areas) together. Or you could decide for yourself which cause you are most passionate about and recruit members from there.
Put feelers out to your existing network - maybe those friends have friends who’d be interested. Tap your social media networks - perhaps you can convert some of those virtual friends into real life ones. You could even try the time-tested tactic of putting up flyers!
Recruitment should be an ongoing process, but once you have a handful of people committed, put the logistics in place. Establish guidelines and schedules for meetings as well as agreed-upon contribution amounts. Above all, create a supportive, inclusive, and fun environment that will contribute to people sticking around. From there, building relationships based on a shared sense of purpose will be within reach.
3. Volunteer Together
Once you get your Giving Circle rolling, you can build it out with activities that align with your group’s values. Connect with the nonprofits with missions that resonate with your Giving Circle and get involved! Organize group volunteer days or other activities that bring your crew together - and even expand it by meeting others who are involved with the same organizations as you. Taking the next step of engagement will help foster connections with new folks while making an impact in your community.
4. Attend Philanthropic Events
By taking the steps to start and develop a Giving Circle, you’ve likely gained confidence along with a sense of purpose. Get out there and continue to broaden your net! What types of events are going on in your community that overlap well with the goals of your Giving Circle? Attend fundraisers, networking opportunities, conferences - you name it. Use these events to bring new people into your circle or inspire them to start their own. Cause-based events offer an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals and expand your network.
It’s true that loneliness is a serious issue in this country that will take work on both the societal and individual levels to solve. But by engaging in social philanthropy - joining or starting a Giving Circle, then using your circle as a vehicle to get out and build your network with hands-on activities and events - you’ll not only meet new people, develop relationships and a sense of belonging, but you’ll do it all while making a difference for others.
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