Hi, I’m Maggie! I’m a writer with Philanthropy Together, and a first-time participant in their flagship Launchpad For You program! This spring, I’ll be taking you through my experience starting and growing my own giving circle through Launchpad For You, where I’m a member of the Spring 2022 Morning cohort.
Launchpad For You is Philanthropy Together’s virtual, interactive leadership training program for people interested in starting their own giving circles. This week, my cohort met to discuss the “WHAT” – what exactly our giving circles will do, who they will serve, and the focus areas and values that form the backbone of our organizations.
Week 2: Finding Your WHAT – Four Big Ways In
This week was all about values: honing in on our personal values, finding ways those values intersect with our giving (and ways they don’t have to), and translating that into actionable steps for our giving circles. The point of this exercise was to give our giving circle roots. If our discussions with our circle members and co-leaders lead to conflict, we will always have our circles’ key values to fall back on.
For example, I came into Launchpad knowing I wanted to give back to the communities I belong to, like the LGBTQ+ community, younger Millennials and Gen Z, and people in the arts. At the same time, I wasn’t sure how to distill that desire into actionable steps or actual plans to help the communities I care about.
Enter the values exercise: Discussing my ideals and the values that back them up, I was able to boil down my big-picture ideas into concrete pillars. These pillars will help define my personal giving and give my circle a foundation to stand on. Keywords like economic empowerment, equity in the arts, and harm reduction kept coming up in my small group discussions, and the other Launchpad members helped me connect those ideas to values like “equity”, “creativity”, “love”, and “community”. While I was the only young Millennial in my breakout room, it was encouraging to hear other Launchpad members echoing my sentiments, along with central values of their own: fighting homelessness, raising awareness around eating disorders, and racial equity campaigns came down to values like “health”, “safety”, and “access to resources”.
Leveraging these values, we discussed the “WHAT” of our circles through four specific criteria:
- Issue & Content Areas. These are the challenges or campaigns our circles want to address. The team recommended no more than 1-3, to keep our circles hyper-specific and our members engaged.
- Population Served. It’s easy to want to help the whole world, but for circles just starting out, the Philanthropy Together team encouraged us to focus on a specific population. This could be broken down by age, community (for example, LGBTQ+ or AAPI), or socioeconomic background.
- Geographic Scope. Again, we all want to save the world, but when we’re just getting started, it’s easier to drum up support when we focus on a specific city, county, or state. Some of the circle ideas in my cohort aren’t limited by geographic scope, and for these organizers, the team recommended finding local members to begin with.
- Organization Size & Lifecycle. Who are our circles’ grantees? The nonrestricted funding that comes from giving circles is often most transformative for grassroots organizations and nonprofits with small operating budgets, but it’s up to the circle members if they want to support a large organization like the World Wildlife Foundation or the Red Cross.
Our instructors called these “the four big ways in”. The goal of this exercise was to narrow down what we want to do with our giving circles: how we want to make an impact and who we want to have the biggest impact on. We looked at established giving circles in the world hunger sphere to see how their values and “ways in” shook out. All five circles we examined were built to fight hunger, but they had different roots.
For example, CHAI Giving Circle members lean on their Jewish values to inform their decisions, while COLA Gives, the first African American giving circle in South Carolina, holds heritage and history close in its grantmaking. These established circles also gave excellent examples of geographic scope: Giving 2 Grow narrows their focus area to Southwestern Pennsylvania, while Equitable Giving Circle serves BIPOC communities in Portland, Oregon.
All of these giving circles focus on food and ending hunger – but they show us that there are so many ways to tackle one challenge.
Takeaways From Week 2
A big thing I had to remember during this session is that we are all starting our giving circles. Some of us may be lucky enough to enlist fifteen friends right off the bat, but we’re not going to “fail” the Launchpad program if it takes us a while to grow our membership.
As we take further steps to form our circles, one thing we keep coming back to is the idea of scale: Last week, we were encouraged to find two or three co-founders to help with leadership. As we get further in the program, we’ll begin enlisting regular members as well. But this is just the beginning for our circles: We have nowhere to go but up!
I know I myself am very susceptible to analysis paralysis. With so many ideas and resources and issue areas and passions out there, it’s easy for me to get so overwhelmed by all of the possibilities that I don’t know where to start – and ultimately, give up. I ran into one of those hurdles this week when we talked about geographic scope – because my peer group is spread all over the country, I know we’ll have to host our meetings online, and everyone I’ve spoken to so far about my circle has roots in a particular state, city, or country that others may not. For example, one of my co-founders mentioned an interest in supporting her hometown of San Diego, California, but we agreed we don’t want to be limited to a specific geographic area. So how do we decide WHERE to target our funding? Questions for another week!
What’s been transformative for me so far about Launchpad is that I’m simultaneously inspired and grounded. I know where I want to go with my giving circle, but I also know what I need to do to get it started – and how to keep taking those small steps forward without getting overwhelmed by my own excitement.
I’m eager to see where we go in the rest of the Launchpad program. You’ll be pleased to hear that I completed my Week 1 homework and brought in two co-founders, both of whom are just as excited about the possibilities of our circle as I am. I admit that I spent a long time waffling about the “perfect” way to pitch this project, and it wasn’t until our Launchpad instructors encouraged us to just ask that I finally reached out. (And naturally, my friends went nuts at the idea, proving I had nothing to worry about in the first place.)
My fellow cohort members and I are finding those doorways into our circles. And by grounding ourselves in our values, issue areas, and goals, we’re beating analysis paralysis and finding the courage to reach out to the people who are going to help us change the world.
Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.
Follow along for updates each week, and for more news about the 32+ giving circle leaders graduating from the program! To join an upcoming Launchpad For You cohort, register today!
Read more about Maggie’s Launchpad For You journey:
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.