Looking Forward: What’s ahead for Giving Circles in 2023

Feb 28, 2023

This past month, we hosted a conversation with Hali Lee on what’s to come for Giving Circles in 2023. Hali founded the Asian Women Giving Circle, which has moved over a million dollars to support arts and activism in NYC. She’s also a Co-Founder of the Donors of Color Network and has been a foundational force in the Giving Circle movement. Who better to hear from on the state of the movement and where it's headed?

We’ve compiled all of her insights from the conversation below. You can also watch a full recording of the discussion here.

The state of affairs for Giving Circles heading into 2023

Between 2007 and 2017, the Giving Circle movement took off around the world, especially in the US. Since then, we’ve seen the birth of Giving Circle support organizations like Philanthropy Together and Grapevine, as well as the formation of many new collective giving networks. Giving Circles have a wide appeal because they democratize philanthropy by enabling everyday people to join together around a common cause, pool their funds, and make a bigger difference for the causes they select as a group.

In 2023, Hali believes that we will see this connection between Giving Circles and democracy continue to grow - literally. Organizations like The States Project are proving that Giving Circles can make a change on a national level in the democratic process. This Giving Circle network in particular focuses on making state legislative campaigns more effective and better-funded by everyday people. To date, they've moved millions of dollars for campaigns across the country. As more Giving Circle networks like this one are established, we will see Giving Circles, as well as their members, become more involved and influential in the political sphere.

That’s how our democracy should work – engaged citizens knowing more, learning more, getting involved, asking questions, just pushing upstream…and then working to get stuff done at the state level.

Hali Lee

Biggest challenges facing Giving Circles

One of the biggest challenges of Giving Circles that Hali cited is a hesitation from newcomers to just get started. Launching a Giving Circle may seem like a daunting task, so she advises anyone interested in starting a Giving Circle to simply begin and to not get stuck figuring out every detail first. Founding members of the Giving Circle will help to shape the group as it grows which is part of the fun for everyone. Luckily, there are also some great resources to help anyone to easily get started and grow from there. Tools like Grapevine, for example, allow you to start a Giving Circle in a matter of minutes. You can get started here.

From the micro level: get together with your friends, talk about the basics and just start. You can readjust later.

Hali Lee

Not only can Giving Circle founders get stuck by trying to figure everything out before beginning a group themselves, but they may also be afraid to start a Giving Circle that takes a particular point of view or “stance.” While founders may think that they’ll attract more people by choosing an agnostic, values-neutral stance for their Giving Circle, this may not be true. Taking a perspective on the causes we believe in can help us engage other like-minded people looking to band together around shared values to make a difference. In fact, the research shows we give more when an organization or cause is aligned with our values.

If we push people off the agnostic fence it might actually encourage them to give more.

Hali Lee

Diversifying philanthropy with Giving Circles

Hali has extensive experience working to diversify philanthropy through founding organizations like Donors of Color Network and the Asian Women Giving Circle, as well as through research and thought leadership. She shared some valuable insight into why diversity in the movement is important and how we can continue to move it forward.

Hali pointed out that donors of color are rarely represented in philanthropic literature even though they have played a vibrant role in our country’s philanthropy. The Portrait Report, published by the Donors of Color Network (and authored by Hali Lee, Urvashi Vaid and Ashindi Maxton), is a report on this lack of representation. It is the largest qualitative research project of high net worth people of color ever reported in philanthropic literature. This report uses detailed interviews with givers of color to highlight the fact that traditional philanthropic channels are classist in nature, causing people of color to prefer different channels for giving, like Giving Circles.

In this country there needs to be Giving Circles along every combination of ethnicity, race and identity that we can imagine. That’s what will make this sector vibrant and humming. The story of philanthropy has historically been told as something that is only white and male.

Hali Lee

When forming your Giving Circle, remember that your founding team is incredibly important to the future DNA of your group. Hali warns that diversity along race, socio-economics and lived experience needs to be present from the very beginning for it to be present in the future. And Giving Circles cannot fulfill their purpose of democratizing philanthropy unless people of all different backgrounds are represented within the movement.

The people who you have in the room for the first few years of the Giving Circle will represent who will be in that room 20 years later.

Hali Lee

To watch a full recording of our conversation with Hali check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Urq7xsnKVY