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Giving matters

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Small donations add up when donors pool funds, decision-making.

By Jenni Owen

Consider starting a giving circle.

Think of it as a collection of people of any size who regularly pool their funds and contribute them to an organization or cause they choose.

Each circle can develop its own size, structure, priorities, personality and amount each member should give.

Each member of our giving circle contributes $25 a month, or $300 a year, while some circles set giving per member at $1, 000 a year or more. Regardless of the amount, the recipient will be thrilled.

Some giving circles have themes, such as the environment, anti-racism, or children and youth. Others, like ours, give to a wide range of organization and causes. Some give within a very limited geographic area, while others give much more broadly.

Our circle meets every other month, with two to three members alternating as hosts at their homes.  We have three two-meeting cycles a year, meaning we give $1,000 three times a year.

At the first meeting of each “cycle”, we talk casually about possible groups to which we might contribute based on members’ suggestions.  We decide to pursue one or more of those groups, or sometimes all of them, and at the second meeting of the cycle, one or more members shares more detailed information about each group under consideration and we arrive at a decision.

While it clearly takes the initiative of one or more people to launch a circle, a “chair” or “director” is not necessarily required or desirable.  Consider having members volunteer for a range of tasks on a standing or rotating basis.  One member can handle the scheduling of meetings, another the collection of funds, and a third can host the meetings.

If your circle raises large amounts of funds, it might be worth talking with representatives of a community foundation, credit union or other financial institution about opening an account.

There is no end to the potential positive impacts of giving circles, both on the organizations and causes they fund, and on the circles’ members.

At a minimum, recipients benefit from funding, an expanded donor base, and the potential for new board members or other expertise.

Givers benefit from more thoughtful giving, community building, grassroots philanthropy, better-educated citizens, and increased civic involvement.

Consider starting a circle with your friends, neighbors or coworkers, with members of your congregation, athletic team or car pool.

The possibilities are endless.


Jenni Owen is director of policy initiatives for the Center for Child and Family Policy in the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke University in Durham, N.C.

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