Linetta Gilbert once asked, “As giving circles, are we thinking ‘big enough’? Are we trying to look and sound and be like institutional philanthropy? Are we allowing ourselves the freedom to be and act and talk as we believe we need and want to be to connect, support, and advocate for our community through our time, talent, treasure, and testimony?”
WPI’s Jeannie Sager opened with Linetta’s questions during the 2021 We Give Summit session, We’re Better Together: A Discussion on Collective Philanthropy. Giving circles are just one way individuals can engage in collective giving and redefine what it means to be a philanthropist.
At the end of the day, why do we choose to give in community rather than giving as individuals? The simple answer comes down to the power of the collective. When we give in community, rather than as individuals, we are able to amplify the impact of our dollars.
Here are seven collective giving models challenging traditional philanthropy through the power of community.
1. Giving Circles
Giving circles bring people together to pool their resources, learn from and about their communities, and provide funding to partners in a particular issue area or community. These circles come in all shapes and sizes and can support nonprofits, projects and individuals. Giving circle members lead with their values, which is what unites the group.
Battery Powered is a giving circle housed within The Battery, a social club in San Francisco with membership running the gamut in terms of ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, political and ideological inclinations, and funding power.
“Our mission is quite literally two words: Activate Generosity,” said Colleen Gregerson, President of Battery Powered. “And that means we take on all kinds of issues, driven by our members themselves, who select three issues a year they want to focus on.”
Over a four-month researching process, Battery Powered members learn about the issue areas they want to support, from climate action to homelessness, childhood nutrition to gun violence prevention. “We get a chance to really learn deeply about those issues,” Gregerson explained. “One of our core values is that we want to become more informed citizens on these topics before we start giving funding away.”
Often, giving circles bridge the gap between “traditional philanthropy” and grassroots organizations that tend to fall under the radar. Members of a circle give support with their dollars, but they also build awareness, volunteer their time, become board members with nonprofit organizations, and do much more beyond the dollar.
Giving circles are collaborative, education-focused, and often identity-driven. Grant cycles are highly flexible, allowing for multiple disbursements to multiple organizations, or a larger donation to a single nonprofit. Giving circles are often focused on fun, too, giving their members an opportunity to celebrate positivity and inclusion while making true social impact.
Giving Circles in Action: Battery Powered
We’ve all seen crowdfunding campaigns on GoFundMe and Kickstarter. Simply put, crowdfunding leverages a crowd to produce funds! This method of collective giving is used to raise money through the effort of friends, family, and individual investors. You’ll typically see crowdfunding endeavors circulating on social media, but there are also specialty websites and platforms designed to keep the process in one place like StartSomeGood and Indiegogo.
“The power of [collective giving structures] is that we can move quickly without bureaucracy,” said Minda Brusse, a member of The $1K Project, a unique peer-to-peer giving circle that leverages crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe to provide emergency financial relief to families in need through individual sponsorships.
Crowdfunding platforms allow for collaboration packed with simplicity and ease of access. Because crowdfunding leverages the power of our social networks, it can be easier to get the word out about critical campaigns (medical expenses, house fires, etc.). However, these same platforms often come with high platform fees. It’s worth mentioning too that crowdfunding platforms can be susceptible to scams, though services like GoFundMe and Kickstarter do their best to vet organizers.
The $1K Project avoided this issue by creating a peer-verified network of families in need, leveraging a nomination and accelerated application process to connect families with sponsors without undue risk. “In finding those nonprofits, principals, teachers, and organizations that were in touch with these families, we were able to rapidly spread out and create this trusted network of referrals,” Brusse explained. “That [network] became a way to attract more sponsors, network participants, and families.”
Crowdfunding in Action: The $1K Project
3. Mutual Aid
Mutual aid funds or projects is when people in a community come together and share resources and other material supports, like food, supplies, and childcare. In these projects, people take on the responsibilities and tasks they’re best suited to, and everyone works together to provide care for those who need it most. These mutual aid projects can be financial – giving and receiving funds – physical – exchanging goods – or service-based – exchanging services and favors, like babysitting in exchange for carpooling to school.
This form of collective philanthropy is often empathy-driven and fast-moving. Mutual aid works best for families and small communities. The tight-knit nature of these projects makes them highly customizable and impactful for the individuals involved, particularly in cases where immediate action is needed.
At the same time, that tight-knit atmosphere can sometimes mean limited impact, often restricted to a certain community or group of people. While community-driven projects are excellent for the communities they serve, it’s tough to build their impact outside of an immediate geographical area. Plus, mutual aid projects are often informal, meaning that there can be cases when someone doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain.
Mutual Aid in Action: For the Gworls
4. Fundraising Societies
Lastly, fundraising societies – also referred to as giving societies or donor clubs – are when nonprofits or universities get a group of people together to raise funds on behalf of that same nonprofit or university. There is typically one organization who is both the host and the beneficiary of fundraising societies.
United Way of New York City has five engagement networks, which operate as fundraising societies. In addition to making a financial contribution to United Way of New York City, members of their engagement networks are thought partners on their initiatives and projects.
Fundraising Societies in Action: United Way of New York City
5. Giving Projects
Giving Project Network is a collaboration of seven social justice funds and public foundations supporting community organizing for systemic change across the U.S. and internationally. This educational and training powerhouse helps individual donors, for-profit companies, and community organizations operate in a structure similar to a mutual aid fund.
“I see our particular model that we use [at the Giving Project] as a tool for developing leadership and capacity for cross-race and cross-class collective action, where communities are learning to govern and move resources to meet community needs,” said Sian O’Faolain, Co-Director at Giving Project Network, which they call a “container to engage across race and class”.
One of the most important things Giving Project Network does is place an emphasis on intimate personal relationships as a form of social capital. O’Faolain encourages having one-on-one conversations rather than leveraging social media for contributions for mutual aid, because this gives potential funders the opportunity to learn from each other and create a transformational, reciprocal experience for everyone involved.
Ultimately, the goal is to become an individual within a collective, rather than an individual trying to spread too few dollars too thin.
Giving Projects in Action: Chinook Fund
6. Giving Days
Giving days are short-term fundraising challenges – usually 24 hours – that aim to rally groups of people around a particular region, cause, event, or organization. We often see giving days in support of causes like LGBTQIA2S+ empowerment (#GiveOutDay) or for organizations like universities and community centers. These giving days are usually launched primarily by community foundations, cause-based nonprofits, and places of higher education.
These celebratory giving days offer quick, network-based impact with immediate funding opportunities. The short time frame of a giving day allows for a quick burst of support from the organizer’s community. And because the funding time ends within 24 hours, those funds can often be accessed more quickly than in other funding cases. A successful giving day relies on a tight-knit, engaged community.
Giving Days in Action: GivingTuesday
7. Issue Funds
Issue funds are philanthropy products that individuals or organizations can invest in. An issue fund will often package nonprofit organizations into “fund” portfolios. The idea here is that a donor can contribute to many organizations at once by pooling into an issue fund instead of a particular organization or campaign. Plus, issue fund organizers often offer unique ways for donors to learn about and support the issue area the fund is built around, like donor-specific training programs, events, and resources.
One of the benefits of issue funds is that they typically lead to a distribution of funds to a large number of organizations, with large-scale group impact. Being part of an issue fund package can be a great benefit for smaller nonprofits and grassroots organizations who would otherwise not have opportunities to attract investors or apply for venture capital. While the individual piece of the pie may be smaller, there’s more to go around. However, individual disbursements are sometimes smaller in issue funds, as success depends on wide-scale group participation.
Issue Funds in Action: CLIMA Fund
To learn more about giving circles and other forms of collective giving, visit Philanthropy Together’s YouTube channel for comprehensive video training and session recordings from our annual We Give Summit.
Ilyasah N Shabazz
For more than a decade, Ilyasah has worked with nonprofits to help them grow their audience by telling impactful stories, implementing strategic plans, and streamlining digital communications. A proud New Yorker, Ilyasah now lives in Greensboro, NC.