Philanthropy Together: Growing the Giving Circle Movement

Aug 3, 2021

Philanthropy Together is dedicated to connecting, supporting, engaging, and empowering individuals on their journey to collective giving important causes around the world. Can you share why this cause is so meaningful to you?

At Philanthropy Together, we believe in the power of giving circles! We also believe everyone can be a philanthropist.

Everyday givers have the power to shift the philanthropic landscape. Historically, philanthropists have been perceived to be primarily rich, primarily white, primarily men, and primarily American. However, through giving circles, more diverse and representative voices can enter and change the conversation on where philanthropic dollars should be allocated.

We aim to democratize and diversify philanthropy through giving circles, and showcase diverse voices. People of color, women, LGBTQIA+, youth, those without wealth, people in rural communities, religious minorities, and more have been organizing different forms of collective giving and giving circles for generations, but their efforts have been largely invisible for “mainstream” philanthropy.

We’d love to hear your origin story. How did Philanthropy Together come to be?

The launch of Philanthropy Together in April 2020 was a true collaborative effort — the result of hundreds of giving circle and network leaders working together to envision the future for this unique giving model.

Philanthropy Together’s origin story begins in 2016 when the Collective Giving Research Group conducted a landscape study, which found that there are more than 1,600 giving circles in the United States and at least 150,000 people engaged. Inspired by the release of this research and spearheaded by Amplifier@JFNA, a network of Jewish-values-based giving circles, more than 20 giving circle networks came together in November 2017 to envision the future of giving circles.

Soon after, five diverse leaders and networks—representing Asian Women Giving Circle, Amplifier@JFNA, Community Investment Network, Latino Community Foundation, and Philanos—embarked on a 12-month co-design process with consultant Isis Krause of Knead Partners to take the starting ideas from the convening and turn them into a full-fledged strategy.

Philanthropy Together became a reality on April 1, 2020 through a launch investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and with Sara Lomelin — one of the leaders from the co-design team — as founding executive director.

You’ve helped empower many giving circle groups through your work, and every story is special. Would you be able to share the story of one or a few of those groups?

Philanthropy Together helps start giving circles and helps existing giving circles thrive.

Through our giving circle incubator program Launchpad, we have trained more than 200 giving circle leaders around the world to start giving circles. We feel great pride when each of our participants graduate from the program and begin the work to launch their circle. Adam Erickson and Irfana Jetha Noorani are graduates of the inaugural Launchpad For You cohort and launched their giving circle Vital Little Plans — an artist collective and giving circle that supports equitable, creative and vital plans that are arts-driven and community-led for neighborhoods and places in fall 2020. Adam, Irfana, and fellow members of the leadership team announced Vital Little Plans at the 2020 Artplace Summit, and it was incredible to watch as they exceeded their goal in real time!

To support existing giving circles, we provide resources and programs to strengthen their work. We host Communities of Practice, where giving circle leaders connect, train, and exchange best practices. Our Racial Equity Community of Practice launched in July 2020 as a 6-month program in partnership with Community Investment Network (CIN) and Community Build Ventures. Giving circles made a commitment to embed racial equity within their culture, leadership, grantmaking, and connection to community. Many Hands DC, participated in the program and received $1,000 to advance their work further. Earlier this year, 13 members of the board participated in virtual workshops on structural racism, and will facilitate reflections amongst its members to design their own discussion series to continue the conversation with more community members.

How does it make you feel to think about the incredible impact you’re having on the communities and nonprofits you’re supporting?

Powerful! At the core we are organizing thousands and thousands of new donors to give intentionally, with trust, and in community with other people with shared values. Smaller dollar donors are so often overlooked, and yet when they come together in a giving circle their financial contributions, impact, collective voice, are all multiplied in a powerful way.

Giving circles most often give to grassroots local organizations or projects and this show of support and trust can help those organizations grow and then attract attention from larger funders—what is more powerful than that?!

What are some ways you help create a sense of community among Giving Circles?

In May 2021, Philanthropy Together hosted the inaugural We Give Summit — a celebration of collective giving. More than 1,000 giving circle members across 250 giving circles, as well as supporters and leaders gathered for panel discussions, workshops, and networking. It was incredible to see the field of giving circles come together for the first time ever!

Further, Philanthropy Together’s Communities of Practice bring together a critical mass of giving circles from across the field who are experiencing similar challenges and offers learning and sharing opportunities to strengthen alongside a community of other circles who likely look and think differently. Additionally, our community forum is a way for leaders to learn together, share ideas and challenges, ask questions, and make new friends. We invite you to join the forum and share your learnings and ask questions of other members!

What advice do you have for people who are looking to start a Giving Circle but aren’t sure where to begin?

Join Launchpad For You — a 5-session training program for budding giving circle leaders. You’ll meet fellow changemakers and gain all the tools and tips needed to start a giving circle by joining Launchpad For You. Past participants have shared how fun, informative, and helpful it’s been on their own road to launch.

You can also reach out directly to the Philanthropy Together team at hello [at] philanthropytogether.org.