Hi, I’m Maggie! I’m a writer with Philanthropy Together, and a first-time participant in their flagship Launchpad For You program! I had the excellent opportunity to be part of the Spring 2022 Launchpad For You cohort, and I’ve been sharing my experiences week-to-week.
Launchpad For You is Philanthropy Together’s virtual, interactive leadership training program for people interested in starting their own giving circles. In our final week of Launchpad For You, we celebrated how far we’ve come since day one and took a final look at some of the essential perspectives of giving circles: how to reflect on our grant cycles, how to grow, and how to connect with the larger giving circle movement.
Week 5: “This One’s For All The Jelly Beans!”
Our final session had an air of celebration. The last of our educational resources focused on reflection, connection, and storytelling, as well as how these topics aligned with everything we learned in our five weeks. (Or in the words of Tyeshia Wilson, Philanthropy Together Director of Engagement, “Look at all our jelly beans!”)
There’s a bit of a paradox when it comes to stabilizing a giving circle: without structure, a giving circle could become too rickety to be sustainable. But too much reliance on structure removes the fun, adds pressure for members, and re-applies some of that philanthropic red tape that giving circles are famous for cutting through. In my own giving circle, we need to tread the line between structure and fun very carefully. The Leadership Committee is made up of three extremely busy, extremely passionate Millennial women, and we’ve already run into moments where “real life” gets in the way of things like meeting social media posting deadlines and planning a launch schedule.
But I will say: We are having so much fun planning this out. We’ve made some of our key decisions – including the name, but I won’t spill the beans on that until the end of this post! We still have a ton of work to do before we get off the ground, but we’ve planned an official launch date of June 1st, with our goal to host our first full membership meeting in early July and give out our first grant by the end of September. Now what’s left is figuring out our recruitment strategy, finding people we want to bring into the Leadership Committee, and starting our first grant cycle, all while preserving the sense of fun, positivity, and community that we’ve been committed to since Day One.
So, how do we strike the right balance?
First, we never stop engaging our members. From celebratory events to leadership training programs, educational presentations, membership surveys, and beyond, we create touchpoints for our circle members that keep them engaged and present. Tyeshia called this “the energy and spice we all need right now.” For a lot of people, it’s not enough to simply give our dollars and walk away – joining a circle is about learning from your colleagues, engaging with grantees, and making an impact on the world. The two-way flow of communication is critical to success, for our leaders, our members, and our grantees alike. The giving circle movement is unique because of this hyper-engagement.
As we grow, we find support and friendship with other circles and the movement at large. Our instructors encouraged us to partner with other giving circles and philanthropic leaders whose values align with ours – the more we engage with and learn from each other, the more successful we can be as a movement. The obvious example is Philanthropy Together and Grapevine’s Global Giving Circle Directory, where more than 2,500 giving circles can find connection and support across the globe. However, other resources exist, like social media, giving circle networks (think Philanos, Honeycomb, and Impact100), and host organizations like The Awesome Foundation or SVP (Social Venture Partners). My co-founders and I are still undecided on whether we’ll join a circle network, but that’s one of our first key discussion points we plan on bringing up during our first full membership meeting in July.
And finally, we look back to move forward: we celebrate our successes, learn from our challenges, and find ways to improve year after year. Reflection is a critical component of giving circles, from small things like taking meeting notes to large things like reconnecting with grantees to see the impact of our funding. There’s also such a thing as too much reflection, so the Philanthropy Together team encouraged us to find the right balance of reporting, expenses, membership data, and impact. The goal is to never lose sight of the long term, and celebrate our progress, rather than getting mired in all the tiny details.
During this closing session, we also had the opportunity to connect with Emily Schaefer, the Director of Content and Community at Grapevine. Emily took us through a comprehensive demo of the platform, which is free to use and allows giving circles to collect funds, donate to grantees, and communicate with members via a forum system.
The Grapevine demo was a concrete “next step” for a lot of us – now that we’re ready to get our circles off the ground, Grapevine will likely be the starting point for our first grant cycles. (And because I’m a lifelong honor student, I already have our circle’s Grapevine page up and running – but more on that in a second!) Having support from both the Grapevine and Philanthropy Together teams makes these next steps feel not only straightforward, but easy to accomplish.
Celebrating the LaunchGrads
This week was also our time to celebrate our progress, especially the new circles developing from Launchpad. In my cohort alone, we had a circle focusing on eating disorder recovery and youth hunger, another for artists in Atlanta, a circle that celebrates African culture, and my own circle, which will serve the LGBTQ+ and creative community and is inspired by the music festival positivity movement.
Calling herself our “graduation speaker,” Philanthropy Together’s CEO Sara Lomelin joined us for today’s session. It was wonderful to celebrate with her and see how excited she was about each of our circles. Sara cheered the “radical generosity that exists in all of us”, offering her well-wishes and advice for success. The Philanthropy Together team has been an invaluable asset throughout this whole process, so being able to celebrate their work as well as ours was a wonderful way to close out the program.
Our final step was to announce the grantee for our pop-up giving circle: Agape House, an organization that provides counseling services, mentoring, school and a safe home for girls and their families in Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan. We put on our party hats and our best smiles and took a group photo to send to Agape House along with our donation. And I have to say – boy, did that feel good.
Takeaways From Week 5
I’m honored that I was able to take part in this program. I knew how transformative Launchpad For You and the larger giving circle movement could be, having written about Philanthropy Together and other circle supporters here and there over the years. But by taking part in the program myself, I finally got to experience first-hand how amazing it feels to take all of these ideas we have for making the world a better place, and then actually turn those ideas into action.
So without further ado, I’m delighted to introduce my own giving circle: The Undercard Collective. As you’ll hear us say on our brand new, shiny website, “The Undercard Collective is a group of like-minded souls all over the country who want to radiate positivity and make a difference! We are a network of professionals and individuals, inspired by the positivity movement born out of music festivals, who support the arts and nonprofits focused on making the world a more equitable, inclusive, and exciting place to celebrate.”
So what’s in the name? The “undercard” is the bottom half of a music festival lineup or event schedule, where up-and-coming artists and presenters make their first mark on the creative world. We chose this name because we consider ourselves part of the undercard. We want to find the organizations and individuals on the undercard around the world, and elevate them for their moment in the spotlight. And without Launchpad, I wouldn’t have found a spotlight for my giving circle.
Ultimately, Launchpad has put the power in my hands. Something I’ve struggled with as long as I’ve been a journalist in the philanthropy world is having all of this information at my fingertips but feeling like I can’t actually “do” anything with it. Whether my roadblocks have been my personal finances, my lack of free time, or just that endlessly nagging feeling of imposter syndrome, I’ve always felt like an outsider looking in on the movers and shakers of global philanthropy.
As soon as I opened the conversation with my friends, I discovered I’m not the only one who feels this way. My co-founder Kyana discovered philanthropy in college, where she planned sorority events to benefit the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Since entering the professional event planning world, however, a jam-packed professional schedule and skyrocketing New York rents have forced her to put her giving on the back burner. Our third co-founder, Amber, is in the same boat – Amber’s work in and out of the music scene and interior design world has offered a frustrating window into the very real problem of gender equity and equitable access in creative industries. However, as a mother of two with a to-do list as long as the highway, budget constraints and lack of free time have kept Amber from tackling the issues that matter most to her.
It wasn’t until the three of us sat down to start planning The Undercard Collective that we realized how fiercely we believe in making the world a better place, and how passionate we are about creating our own space to make that happen.
Launchpad For You has shown me that I AM a philanthropist and I AM the person best-suited to create this giving circle. And luckily for me, it also showed me that I have people in my corner who are just as fiercely passionate about their beliefs and just as willing to put in the hard work to make our giving circle a reality.
One of the last things said in our session nearly made me cry. Grinning ear to ear, Philanthropy Together’s Program and Campaign Manager Kelsey Barowich told us, “There is so much darkness in the world and you are being this amazing light. We are so proud of you.”
I’m proud of us too, Kelsey.
I have all the resources. I’ve got the ideas. I’ve got the drive. And most importantly, I’ve got the team. Philanthropy Together and Launchpad For You have helped me put it all together – and make it real.
I can’t wait to see what’s next!
You can learn more about my new giving circle, The Undercard Collective, on our Grapevine page or our website, www.undercardcollective.com. If you’ve been with me since day one, thanks for following along! I hope this series has been as helpful for you as it has been for me. To view the rest of the series, start with Launchpad Session 1: We’re of the People Who GIVE. I also encourage you to follow Philanthropy Together for updates about the growing giving circle movement, and for more news about the 32+ giving circle leaders graduating from the program. To join an upcoming Launchpad For You cohort, register today!