Giving circles are reclaiming philanthropy

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Sara wants to invite you over to dinner at her house. In this loud, chaotic, loving environment, Sara shows you how to build power in your community through the power of collective giving. In the process, Sara and her friends – along with hundreds of thousands of people worldwide – are part of a global giving circle movement ushering in a new era in philanthropy that is diverse, democratic, and joyful. And when more diverse people become philanthropists, more diverse solutions and nonprofit leaders get funded.

Watch this TED Talk on giving circles to learn how giving circles turn the act of giving—which is so often done individually and reactively—into a collaborative, intentional, joyful, values-based way of engaging with the issues that matter most.

I want to have you over for dinner at my house.

When you walk in, there are chairs crammed everywhere. It smells delicious. You hear people laughing. You see friends hugging and telling stories. There are more than 20 of us here tonight—teachers, tech leaders, lawyers, moms. It’s LOUD. It’s CHAOTIC. But even if this is your first time, it feels like home.

And then we’ll sit down to work because this is not a regular dinner:

Tonight is the culmination of months of conversations and learning together in my living room.

At the end of this night, $30,000 will go out to a grassroots nonprofit doing incredible work in our community. And that money came from everyone in the room, and the decision of where that money goes included all of our voices.

This is a giving circle—a group of people with shared values who come together to make change.

My giving circle, the Peninsula Latina Giving Circle, is what I know philanthropy to be: it’s joyful, and collaborative, and intentional, and transformative.

Most people don’t see us as “philanthropists” or this process when they think of “philanthropy” but I’m here to show you the powerful possibility that exists in ALL OF US to be philanthropists—no matter your age or wealth, no matter where you live or where you’ve come from.

I am originally from Mexico City, moved to the US 25 years ago and started my first giving circle in 2007 without even knowing the concept had a name! This is not new! Collective giving has been going on for centuries.

Over the last two decades thousands of giving circles have started all over the world, collectively giving more than a billion dollars. I am dedicating my life to this work and now lead Philanthropy Together, a global effort to democratize and diversity philanthropy through the power of giving circles.

There are circles with five members or five hundred, each person giving $5 dollars or $250,000, including any generation, geography, or identity. They give to nonprofits, to individuals, and new ideas just getting off the ground. It’s simple and it’s fun.

There are women’s giving circles, and Black circles, Jewish, and Muslim and Interfaith. Circles focused on civic engagement cross-race and cross-class,

Asian/Pacific Islander, and Latinx LGBTQ+. There are circles inside companies and social clubs and virtual, Giving circles in Malawi, in China, Germany and all over! And get this..there’s a giving circle of friends who all love whiskey!

These circles keep meeting year over year because collective giving is POWERFUL. Together we can have a much bigger impact than we can alone.

So what is the secret? I’m here to share with you four steps to create a thriving giving circle.


The first step is to create belonging.

The concept of people banding together to create change is as old as humanity itself. —but TODAY we don’t even talk to our neighbors anymore! Belonging to something bigger than ourselves and the power of our collective voices and dreams creates a lasting commitment to each other and to change.

In a giving circle, you start with a group —friends, family, colleagues—and you take the time to build deep relationships. Those 20 folks in my living room, we basically started out as strangers, but because we ate and laughed and told stories and decided on our shared values—we ended up creating a beloved community that lasts, year over year.

Giving circles make you feel at HOME.


The second step is to hold space for DISCOURSE.

It can be so overwhelming to know how to make an impact as an individual, but a giving circle creates the opportunity to learn TOGETHER— dozens of people engaging in challenging conversations, gaining new perspectives about issues in their communities.

We work across differences, viewpoints, and ideologies, and because everyone has an equal voice we all walk in with something to share and walk away with something learned. Strong democracy needs strong discourse!

And back to my living room tonight, we’re tackling the hardest part:

deciding together where to give. We’ll learn and then vote, and discuss, and change our minds, and then change our minds again.

But without fail we always come to an agreement at the end, because we come with an open mind and an open heart

In a giving circle, it’s not about me or YOU, it’s about US, TOGETHER.


So once we’ve gathered, and discussed, the third step is to give with TRUST.

In a giving circle, everyone donates into a shared pot together BEFORE even knowing where that funding will go.

We trust each other and that trust extends to the groups receiving funding as well.

Tonight in my living room, we’ve decided on a local nonprofit with a tiny budget. This may be shocking to you, but in the US 88% of funding goes to the top 5% of all nonprofits. And groups led by Black and Latino leaders get far less funding than similar organizations with white leaders. In my giving circle, we give as you would to a loved one, looking them in the eyes.

And unlike most of traditional philanthropy, we’re giving with no strings attached— Literally shifting the power into the hands of the leaders on the ground to decide for themselves how to best use the funding, because community knows what community needs.

For any philanthropist—it should never be about parachuting INTO a community to save it, but acting alongside in partnership.

They don’t need to be SAVED, they need to be TRUSTED.


The last step is to act in ABUNDANCE.

When people think of “philanthropy” they usually only think of BIG MONEY—and of course money IS a part of a giving circle too.  Because of the multiplying effect, my $100 can turn into $10,000 or even $100,000 – I can even get my kids to pay attention for 2 minutes when we have just given a $50K gift — but philanthropy literally means “love of humanity” – giving with an abundance of heart. We can all be radically generous in so many ways beyond the money.

After leaving my house, we will go on to volunteer, advocate, and make introductions. In giving circles, we call this “giving your 5Ts”: treasure, time, testimony, talent, and ties.

One of my favorite stories of abundance is of Martin Vargas Vega, the son of migrant farmworkers whose dream was to be a coder. Martin learned how to code because of a small tech-skills nonprofit. The nonprofit was supported by the Latinos in Tech Giving Circle and Martin saw how powerful it was for a group of people who looked like him to be fueling the work of the nonprofit that trained him. After his training, Martin landed a high-profile tech internship in Silicon Valley and the very first thing he did was give half of his signing bonus to that nonprofit, and the other half to join the Latinos in Tech Giving Circle, because he IS a philanthropist. Martin is actively using his voice and power to offer more STEM programs to kids like him. That is ABUNDANCE.

Life-changing things happen when we look at philanthropy beyond just money. Because all the money in the world isn’t going to save us. But beloved communities will.

For too long philanthropy has been just a select few deciding the impact on many: who should and shouldn’t get funding, what is and isn’t considered impactful.

In the U.S., communities of color receive just 8% of philanthropy.

Women and girls causes makes up only 1.9%. Not even one-third of one percent of all funding goes to LGBTQ+ communities.


We have to change this. 

When we shift the power of philanthropy into all of our hands we shift who gives, how we give, and ultimately, what gets funded.

Giving by, for, and with the communities we represent is the future of philanthropy and each and every one of us belong in this movement.

Just think, what if every town and issue and community in the world had a circle full of passionate philanthropists like you?

If you’re hungry for purpose, impact, connection, and JOY: join a giving circle or start your own: No matter if you have $5 dollars to give or $50 million, no matter if you’re a teacher, or tech leader, or lawyer, or a mom.

And if you do have millions or billions, be part of this movement and match 100-fold or invest alongside a local giving circle.

Thanks for coming to my giving circle tonight. In a world that feels heavy, doing philanthropy together, brings me so much joy and hope for the future. When we started, you may have thought you were only coming for dinner, but actually, you just got an invitation to change the world. Let’s meet at your house next time.

Thank you.

Share this talk with friends and family to spread the word on this powerful movement!

Sample Facebook/LinkedIn/Instagram Post

For too long philanthropy has been just a select few deciding the impact on many: who should and shouldn’t get funding, and what is and isn’t considered impactful. Giving circles are changing this dynamic by going back to the root of the concept: love of humanity.

Check out this #TED talk on how giving circles are democratizing and diversifying philanthropy, one dollar at a time.


Sample Tweet

If you’re hungry for purpose, impact, connection, and JOY: join a giving circle or start your own!

@Phil_Together CEO @Sara_Lomelin’s recently shared the four elements of how to build community power through collective giving at #TED. Watch now:

Sample Facebook/LinkedIn/Instagram Post

“Giving by, for, and with the communities we represent is the future of philanthropy and each and every one of us belongs in this movement.”

Giving circles are changing philanthropy by redefining what it means to be a philanthropist. We’re so excited to have the TED talk on giving circles now available! Watch and join or start your own giving circle!

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