What is a Giving Circle?

What is a Giving Circle?

A Giving Circle is when a group of people aligned to a specific cause, geography or identity, donate a certain amount of money (e.g. $10, $100, $10,000+) periodically (e.g. monthly, quarterly or yearly), pool those funds together and collaboratively decide which nonprofits will receive their collective donation. They then do it all again the next period. Giving Circles connect like-minded people, create greater impact for the causes that members care about, and build an even stronger community in the process. Whether you’re a small group of friends, a block of close-knit neighbors, or a team of professionals rallying around a cause, Grapevine is your philanthropic home for giving back, together.

Where did Giving Circles come from?

Giving Circles have been around in communities across the country since the early 1980’s. They were primarily started by women who wanted to make a bigger difference together in their communities, while connecting with and supporting each other in the process. The number of Giving Circles in the US has tripled since 2007. As of five years ago, it was estimated nearly 2,500 giving circles had engaged 150,000 donors and given away nearly $1.3 billion to nonprofits across the country.

The Giving Circle movement has continued to grow over the past couple of years and has reached a new scale with the expansion of Giving Circle networks and the launch of support organizations like Philanthropy Together and Grapevine that have brought the movement online with modern community building tools and have helped to raise much greater awareness through content like this TED Talk on how Giving Circles are disrupting philanthropy.

How does the Giving Circle process work?

Giving Circles can be created around a community or a common cause and can be made up of those with similar or varied backgrounds. Anyone can start a Giving Circle - from a local group that wants to help their community, to a person passionate about a cause seeking to amplify their impact with others, and employees at a company wanting to connect by giving back together and getting their company to match.

There are many different models that Giving Circles can use. In each model, Giving Circle members propose nonprofits to receive their pooled funds and then decide together which one/s should get the donation for each cycle. Here are 3 of the most popular models:

  1. Monthly model: This is an efficient way to move funds quickly. Giving Circle members donate a small amount (like $10 or $25) and vote on a charity for their pooled donations each month.
  2. Quarterly model: This is a popular model that allows for networking and relationship building. Giving Circle members donate a bit more (like $50 or $100), suggest nonprofits for their donation, and meet for one hour each quarter to connect with each other and vote on which nonprofit should receive their pooled funds.
  3. Annual model: In the case that your members want to do a deeper dive into nonprofits, an annual model might be the right option for your group. At the beginning of the year, members commit to a larger donation amount (like $1,000 or $10,000), then they propose nonprofits or accept applications from them. Throughout the year some members of the group volunteer to gather more information on the nonprofits, do site visits and come up with finalists through this diligence. They then come together at the end of the year to celebrate their grantee recipients that have been selected.

Why start or join a Giving Circle?

A Giving Circle is a powerful vehicle for philanthropy. There is no bad way to give back to your favorite communities and causes. However, Giving Circles have a host of unique benefits for the nonprofits they support, as well as for the members that participate in them.

Give more, together

Since Giving Circles are built on a model of regular giving and involve donating pooled funds, you’re not only making contributions year-round, but those contributions are also amplified through the group. Unlike crowdfunding that involves a one-time donation, Giving Circle members donate several times through their group, generating recurring investment in their communities and causes. Giving Circles are powerful in that they require very little time commitment or effort from members while also being very impactful.

Expand your network

Giving Circles provide a platform for individuals to connect with others who share their values and philanthropic interests, building a community of like-minded people. Through shared giving and collaborative decision-making, Giving Circle members can develop meaningful relationships with one another, expanding their social and professional networks. Additionally, Giving Circles often offer opportunities for members to engage directly with nonprofit organizations and community leaders, further expanding their connections and influence. Beyond meetings where the Giving Circle members gather together, members can also organize events that bring members together to expand their networks and learn more about each other.

Further your business

If you are a businessperson, being involved with a Giving Circle can be beneficial for your business and give you valuable skills. Participating in a Giving Circle can help individuals develop leadership skills by offering opportunities to take on various roles within the group, such as facilitating meetings or leading member engagement efforts. Working together with other members towards a common impact goal can also build valuable social sector experience and team-building skills, including communication, collaboration, and consensus-building. These skills can be applied to other areas of life, including professional and personal settings, and can help individuals become more effective leaders and contributors in their communities. Community-based Giving Circles open the door to sponsorship opportunities as well as brand exposure for leaders and members.

Learn more about your community and important causes

If you’re new to an area or passionate about helping your community, joining a community-centric Giving Circle is a great way to learn about issues that are important in your area and make more of a difference. The Giving Circle approach empowers members to discover smaller, more local organizations through word of mouth and the direct experience of other members, which often leads to groups supporting causes and organizations that are overlooked by larger institutional philanthropy. By seeing the direct impact of their contributions through these smaller organizations, Giving Circle members can feel a greater sense of connection to their communities and the issues they care about, making their giving more fulfilling and impactful.

I want to start or join a Giving Circle!

Grapevine makes it easy for you to get involved in the Giving Circle movement in whatever way makes sense for you.

If you’d like to join a group that already exists, search the Grapevine Giving Circles Network for one that supports your community or a cause that’s important to you.

If you’re interested in forming your own, click the button below for our step-by-step guide on how to easily start your Grapevine Giving Circle!