Circles of Generosity

I first heard about giving circles a few years ago when I attended a presentation by James Boyd at a fundraising conference. He spoke about how, through being the recipient of the FIA Perpetual Scholarship, he had visited a number of organisations in the USA and learnt about a model of giving that was yet to be realised this side of the Pacific.

A giving circle is a group of individuals that pool their donations and collectively decide which charity or local community group to give it away to. Often the donations are set at a certain amount and the group is quite active in their philanthropy, with members often seeking to increase their understanding of the social impact their donation will help achieve.

Impact100 WA was one of the first giving circles in Australia and James Boyd, mentioned above, was instrumental in establishing it; launching in March 2012 and their first grant was made in December that same year. In the few years since, giving circles have been popping up all over the country and are starting to make a big difference to a number of charities, especially smaller, emerging ones.

One of the great things about giving circles is that ordinary Australians have opportunity to be involved in high-impact, engaged philanthropy, until now, only something available to the wealthy. This is not too dissimilar from The Funding Network’s model of giving discussed in a blog post here last year. In an article in The Sydney Morning Herald last year, Peter Winneke, head of philanthropy at Myer family Company said:

“We are starting to grow a culture of giving and celebrating. I think the philanthropic sector will explode over the next two decades.”

So, you may be wondering… as a non-profit organisation how can I access these funding opportunities?

We’ve asked Impact100 Melbourne’s Founding Committee Member, Vanessa Meachen, for her hot tips for charities.

  1. Giving circles are made up of multiple individuals – meaning a large pool of decision-makers, all of whom are potential donors and volunteers for your organisation. Many of our finalists and shortlisted organisations have been the recipients of extra donations from Impact100 members – in some cases fairly substantial gifts. Some of our members have become regular donors to the organisations they were introduced to through the Impact100 process, or have made gifts to them from their family foundations. Take advantages of any opportunities the giving circle provides to meet their donors, circulate and network with them – you never know what will result!
  2. Although the donations into giving circles are managed by established philanthropic bodies (for instance, Impact100 Melbourne is a sub-fund of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation) such as community foundations, the giving circle itself will usually be run by volunteers. They might not be as quick to respond to enquiries as big established foundations – but it doesn’t mean they’re not keen to help.
  3. Remember that for many people, giving circles are an introduction to organised philanthropy and a learning experience. Australian giving circles are relatively new, and they don’t have all the answers. They learn from you and from each other.
  4. Most giving circles in Australia will only give one or two large grants per year. That means that they can have quite a close relationship with their grant applicants, because there are so few of them! Even if you’re unsuccessful in obtaining a grant, keep in touch and let them know about your events and milestones, so they can pass the information on to their friends and members, and help you reach a wider audience. They want to celebrate your successes!

The Impact100 model aims to have 100 donors each giving $1,000 so the group can collectively give away $100,000 each year. Other groups have varying financial contributions required, but usually the investments they are making in community groups are quite substantial, so well worth your effort to start making some connections in these areas. Here is a list of ten giving circles in Australia at present (please comment below if you know of any more):

As mentioned earlier, giving circles have long been established in the US with numbers now well over 500, engaging more than 12,500 donors and have collectively donated in excess of US$100m. Although we might just be at the beginning of the giving circle journey in Australia, I think we certainly have a lot to look forward to… from both sides of the fence.

See you in the pond,

The Fish Chick.

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