Recently, we shared the first statistical analysis into collective giving around the world from Dr. Jason Franklin, along with the Collective Giving Research Group’s latest research study, released in late 2020. Their findings included 426 giving circles, 42,200 members engaged, and $46 million in grants invested around the world (excluding the US).
During the 2021 We Give Summit, Philanthropy Together hosted a Global Coffee Chat with Amy Weiss of OLAM, featuring speakers from China, Mexico, India, and Chile. This was just a small sample of the collective giving circle movement gaining traction around the world – while the United States is leading the charge in founding and growing giving circles, collective giving’s roots can be found in cultures around the world.
For example, communal giving, the predecessor to the modern giving circle movement, started in Africa – collective giving is an historically African methodology. For example, West Africans have been practicing “susu” for generations. Susu (or sou-sou) is a community-driven funding practice in which group members contribute a certain amount of funds per time period, then the funds are given to one group member at a time. Sound familiar?
Concepts like susu (and “tanda” in Mexico) form the backbone of today’s giving circle movement. The rising giving circle movement in countries outside of the US speaks to the growing impact of the global community philanthropy movement. Closer to home, our Launchpad For You program officially includes graduates from more than 17 countries, a number that will only continue to grow as we train future cohorts.
Through Philanthropy Together’s expanding network and beyond, here are just a few of the giving circles stepping up to make this a global movement!
Giving Circles in Australia
In 2020, Philanthropy Australia documented the pilot of a giving circle project within Australian workplaces. “Giving Circles at Work”, led by an Australian organization called Good2Give, worked with a large Australian corporate employer to roll out multiple circles amongst a total of 67 employees. With employer-matched contributions, the Giving Circles at Work campaign raised $45,328 AUD, distributed to 9 charities in grants ranging from $500 to $11,538.
While Giving Circles at Work is not the first Australian giving circle, it’s among the first with a concrete research component – post-participatory surveys conducted by Krystian Seibert (Centre for Social Impact at Swinburne University of Technology, Philanthropy Australia) showed “a compelling case for giving circles to be implemented more widely in the workplace, reporting clear and tangible benefits for employees, employers and charities.”
Giving Circles in Asia
Giving Circles in India
One speaker from our Global Coffee Chat was Jacob Sztokman, the CEO of Gabriel Project Mumbai, an development organization devoted to underserved communities in rural India. Gabriel Project Mumbai runs schools, medical clinics, health initiatives, livelihood programs, and nutrition programs.
Sztokman spoke to the importance of giving circles to Gabriel Project. The organization works closely with families and leaders in under-resourced parts of Mumbai, where the giving circle structure allows for more personalized giving, relationships, and connections between communities.
“We see the top-down approach of traditional giving being, of course, very important, but lacking that connection between communities and between people,” Sztokman said. “This emotional distance makes the philanthropic process sterile and detached. These types of institutional funding are often based on cold criteria – matrixes and extensive reporting, business principles and return on investment. While these may be noble goals, I feel that impact based on detachment is less robust than when giving circles really connect with the communities that they are giving to. And this connection gives collective giving a lot of power: to the participants, the NGO, and the community.”
Sztokman also spoke to the benefits beyond the dollar that go along with giving circles: education, spreading awareness, sharing resources and research between organizations to provide greater impact. Gabriel Project Mumbai is just one of many NGOs benefiting from giving circle structures in East Asia and beyond.
Giving Circles in China
The We Give Summit Global Coffee Chat also featured Rob John of Giving Circles in Asia, Bona Zhang of DAF Shanghai United Foundation, and Helen YingSheng Li, founder of Dominos Philanthropy Academy in China, an organization dedicated to philanthropy education and youth outreach.
“Giving is not a new concept in Chinese culture,” said Li. “We learn from Confucius’ teachings on kindness and benevolence, but it has been on the traditional side: helping your neighbors and meeting immediate needs. On one end, Chinese philanthropy is in transition from traditional charity to modern philanthropy. For example, grantmaking is a new practice in China.”
Li mentioned that compared to the US’s 80,000+ foundations, many of which operate as grantmaking funders, China hosts about 800 foundations, with less than 1% of those identifying as grantmaking organizations. As part of the transition away from charity and into philanthropy, Lee espoused the importance and growing impact of giving circles in Asia.
In May 2021, representatives from 15 social groups across Asia gathered in Shanghai to discuss the rising giving circle movement, particularly the shift in charitable giving and fundraising happening right now in China.
With roots in the public philanthropy awakening following the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake, China’s giving circle movement began to gain major momentum in 2016. By July of 2021, Chinese giving circles donated 8 million yuan ($1.26 million USD) to community organizations struggling to survive amidst a lack of government funding – and the Chinese government’s strict sanctions on private philanthropy.
“With giving circles, [individual donors] can create their own opportunities for philanthropic engagement,” writes Li, who is a graduate of Philanthropy Together’s Launchpad For You program. “Of course, the model remains immature, and there are problems still to be solved… Still, there is room for optimism, especially with regard to giving abroad. China is home to one-fifth of the world’s population but accounts for only a tiny fraction of charitable giving. If giving circles can awaken [the] Chinese to the potential of charity, not just as a response to an immediate disaster but as a way to express their values and interests, the impact is likely to stretch far beyond the country’s borders.”
Giving Circles in Europe
Like Asia’s giving circle movement, Europe’s momentum has been slow growing but steady. In October 2021, Launchpad DACH hosted the first German-language circle incubator with 40 participants from Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. The program was sponsored in partnership with Wider Sense TraFo, Haus des Stiftens, the Kurt & Maria Dohle Stiftung, Deutscher Fundraising Verband, Fundraising Verband Austria, SwissFundraising, Stiftung Aktive Burgerschaft, and Verband fur gemeinnutziges Stiften.
Fun fact: Launchpad DACH’s founders, Felix Dresewski and Michael Alberg-Seberich, are graduates from the first-ever Launchpad For You program at Philanthropy Together! Launchpad DACH offers a German-language program built on Launchpad For You’s training format, and we’re delighted to see what Launchpad DACH does next.
Giving Circles in South America
The We Give Summit Global Coffee Chat featured two speakers from South America: Empatthy’s Rosa Madera, calling in from Chile and Silvia Coca Cordova from Friends of San Cristobal, calling in from Mexico.
Central and South America are seeing growth in their circle movements comparable to that in the United States. Growing circles are supporting social change in Argentina, Chile, and Ibero-America, just to name a few.
LAZOS, a community innovation platform for Jewish young professionals in Ibero-America, partnered with Amplifier to launch its first pop-up giving circle in 2018. Since then, LAZOS has collaborated with the Philanthropy Together team to produce LaunchpadLazos: In the same spirit as Launchpad DACH, LaunchpadLazos offers giving circle incubation customized to the needs and experiences of Jewish youth in Ibero-America.
We’d also be remiss not to call out the impeccable work of Rosa Madera and Fundadora Empatthy, a Chile-based organization devoted to accelerating social impact through strategic and sustainable philanthropic plans – including giving circles! We were honored to be a part of Empatthy’s virtual conference, “Boosting Women’s Philanthropy in Ibero-America”, back in March of 2021.
Empatthy’s success says so much about the forward progress of giving circle movements in South America, and we can’t wait to see what happens next!
The Global Giving Circle Movement Isn’t Going Anywhere
As the giving circle movement continues to expand around the globe, we’re endlessly inspired by the power of collective giving in action. At Philanthropy Together, our hope is that circle movements outside of the United States will continue to gather in strength and popularity.
And who knows? Eventually, our friends and colleagues in South America, Europe, and beyond may expand giving circles beyond what we’re currently seeing in the United States. We welcome the challenge – and we look forward to continuing to learn from each other, grow together, and forge new paths forward for collective giving.
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.