Cindy Laquidara is a lawyer based in Jacksonville, Florida. She is Board Certified by the Florida Bar in City, County & Local Government Law.

Giving Circles Empower Female Donors

young ladies taking a picture by the Golden Gate bridgeI wrote previously about the trend in America to give in more meaningful ways, which not only increase impact but honor the concept of philanthropy at its root. As such, a number of recent practices by individuals throughout the country have included, researching nonprofits and causes which most align with the goals of a given donor, as well as planning ways to give rather than merely writing a check, to positively affect cause outcomes. Subsequently, a growing practice among donors is giving circles–or a method in which different individuals join their funds and causes to create a pool of money, which will then go toward a selected organization, based on votes.

The idea of giving circles isn’t novel. In fact, most experts trace it back a couple hundred years, when they were known as mutual aid societies. The latter has inspired the methods of service fraternities and sororities and like-minded organizations. Giving circles have grown in popularity more recently because they maximize the overall size of a given donation, and inject a type of democratic approach to the philanthropic process. By that, I mean participants of such circles typically introduce a cause to the group which they want to support (based on personal experience or beliefs), then provide details of why the group should use the funds for that particular organization/idea, and what the impact would be, as a result. Though giving circles operate more like a company board or lobbying group, they usually maintain no alliance to any certain group, furthering the idea of democracy.

Nevertheless, many circles are built around a general cause; the focus could be on organizations which support homelessness, cancer research, education, etc. Quite a few groups have actually used circles to direct funds to underprivileged women and children. Women of Influence in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for example, donated more than $20,000 to girls’ education and helping low-income women with clothes for work. Likewise, Women’s Giving Circle in Sonoma, California has built a network of charitable women, which, for the last 9 years has given money to women in El Salvador to supplement income, provide food for their children, and inspire economic independence.

Quite a lot of women throughout the country have found the process empowering and fun, even. Unlike the uneventful process of dropping a dollar in a bucket at the checkout counter (though helpful), giving circles provide participants with the opportunity to be social, to learn more about various problems throughout the world, and to use their own voices in support of the things they care about most. Highlighting the social aspect, some giving circles have even used group dinners as a fun tool for discussing where and when to give.

As a testament to its popularity, the New York Times has estimated that almost 40 such groups exist in the United States alone, accounting for about 7,000 women. In 2012, the total number of donations from giving circles was around $8.9 million. This is a great change in the way people give that inspires them to really think about their funds and intent. Furthermore, it centers very real causes that affect women and children, which deserve acknowledgement. If you’re not sure of one in which to be involved, it’s not too late to start your own. Check out this brochure from Create The Good for more information about the process.