“Every day we try to wake up and put on a happy face, and it’s hard,” said Sara Lomelin in a Braintrust meeting shortly after the Buffalo and Uvalde mass shootings. “We haven’t even had time to grieve between tragedies.”
This is painfully true: With no time to process, let alone grieve, the horrific events taking place in our country before the next one occurs, it’s all too easy to fall into feelings of hopelessness and despair surrounding the senseless gun violence in the United States. However, giving circles across the country are standing up as a powerful method of responding to the American mass shooting crisis. Here are a few of their stories —
Fifty Fabulous Women Giving Circle – Buffalo, NY
On May 14, 2022, a gunman opened fire in a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. The following Wednesday, Lisa LaTrovato and her fellow members of Fifty Fabulous Women Giving Circle (FFWGC) met for the voting session on their current grant cycle’s nominees.
FFWGC leadership was unsure whether to proceed with the session, but Lisa and her team set aside time for circle members to grieve and process the tragedy. This FFWGC session was scheduled to vote on the current grant cycle’s nominees, and representatives from the three finalist organizations were in attendance to share more information on their current campaigns.
“Something really unique happened at that giving circle [meeting] that’s never happened in our three years,” Lisa said. The first finalist, Tiffany Lewis of Confident Girl Mentoring (CGM), shared information about how her organization was pivoting its programming to provide crucial support to young Black women in the Buffalo community. Upon hearing about CGM’s work for racial healing, the other two nonprofit representatives stood and withdrew their nominations, casting their support for Tiffany’s group.
“That’s what the City of Good Neighbors is about,” said Lisa. “That’s what this community is about. The beautiful thing about it is that this was the second largest donation in the history of our giving circle. $5,440 – unbelievable.”
Lisa’s second giving circle, The Jenny Circle, reaffirmed its commitment to mental health organizations, as research shows suicide makes up 60% of gun violence deaths in the US. In the spirit of giving people hope, the Jenny Circle provided its first grant to the Community Health Center of Buffalo, an organization that offers mental health services to the Buffalo community.
HERitage Giving Circle – Dallas, TX
Meanwhile, following the Uvalde school shooting in Texas, HERitage Giving Fund members began a phone and email campaign to reach Texas Governor Greg Abbott and express the need for immediate action.
“We were hot as fish grease, as my mom says,” Tyeshia Wilson, Chair-Elect of HERitage Giving Fund, said. HERitage members spent days writing emails and placing phone calls to the Governor’s office while also giving their grantees a safe space to process and grieve the tragedies.
“There is a symbolic, strategic shift going on in philanthropy that could change everything we thought we knew about giving, race, and class. The recent displays of violence point to a dire need for change, truth telling, for racial healing, for transformational solidarity work that needs to take place in every town and every city – every classroom, around every dinner table, to disrupt and counteract the profoundly dangerous and destructive false perceptions about underserved communities and communities of color,” Tyeshia said. “Moving forward with this more inclusive model of philanthropy and thinking, everyone can thrive and we can win, together.”
Legacy Collective – Texas
Meanwhile, Legacy Collective, an online community for giving circles around the world, cleared their communal meeting schedule for a morning and took space and time to mourn.
“We just sat there and cried,” reported CEO Erin Arnheim. “Everyone’s either a mom or an aunt, or we’re all women – and this is really hard.” Erin called this safe and open space “the most beautiful morning” and encouraged other circle leaders to make the space for critical healing.
Legacy Collective also took the opportunity to move immediate funds. During their current grant cycles, circle members nominate grantees based on the circle’s response to immediate issues. One new grantee at Legacy Collective is HAVEN, an organization serving BIPOC women and LGBTQ+ mothers in birth counseling, education, and support, including support programs for local doulas. At first glance, a birth organization might not seem like an obvious choice to support in response to ongoing gun violence, but HAVEN supports women in the communities most heavily impacted by gun violence – communities of color and low-income families, for example.
“I’m really proud of our donors for getting creative and finding organizations that we can support through voting and through our dollars,” Erin said. “A beautiful part of giving circles is watching all of these people come up with incredible nonprofits we can support during these times. This gives me hope.”
“We cannot be desensitized. This cannot be our new normal,” said Sara Lomelin. “Our work has become crucial. It’s more important than ever that we are giving people avenues and tools to channel their energy, pain, and anger about the injustices that keep happening.”
These stories are just a few examples of the rapid-response funding giving circles are uniquely positioned to provide in times of crisis. As grassroots organizations and community leaders continue to campaign for change, giving circles can provide critical support in the form of funding, networking connections, and talent exchanges with their grantees. Only through constant communication and teamwork can we fight for change.
“I want us to continue to work towards a new understanding of common humanity,” said Tyeshia Wilson. “Philanthropy is about the love of humankind. We’ve got to get back to the love, and a shared vision for our collective prosperity that will allow us to love one another across racial relationships and build on trust and mutual respect. We’re going to continue to work together and stay focused on our vision for this country – where everyone can thrive and we all can win.”
To learn more about giving circles and their ongoing response to gun violence, follow Philanthropy Together on Twitter @phil_together and @philanthropytogether on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram.
Maggie May is a small business owner, author, and story-centric content strategist within the nonprofit sector. Maggie is the Founder and Executive Director of the agency Get Mighty Creative, as well as a co-founder and the Director of Operations for The Undercard Collective, a giving circle focused on representation in music and the arts. She is a Maryland transplant by way of Florida, Pennsylvania, Ireland, and most recently Salt Lake City, Utah. She has a passion for finding stories and telling them the way they're meant to be told.