Five lessons I’ve learned from our giving circle

By Leslie Starsoneck

* Start small

We kept our group between six and 10 individuals the first year, making it easy to test out and tweak our guidelines, get to know each other, and grow into ambassadors for giving and for our circle.

* The simpler the rules, the better 

The level of financial commitment and participation, raw data to bring to the circle about a cause, and the setting of meeting dates and locations for the year were among our most important rules.

The least important was the type of charity eligible for consideration.   You work that out in the meeting and grow and learn from the discussions. There’s no need to limit the possibilities.

And to make it easy, we lifted our guidelines, with permission, from another giving circle and adjusted them to our needs.

* Mix it up

Our circle is comprised of nonprofit veterans, corporate folks, Democrats, Republicans, the religious and the agnostic — and there are only 9 of us.

Don’t choose members based only on “like-mindedness.”  No one person cares more or has less passion than another, but we usually have different ideas and different methods for supporting the community.

The process of having to justify your cause is a great growth experience and the education it provides to everyone is invaluable.

* Take time to evaluate your efforts

Our guidelines included a number of topics that we would revisit after a year’s time.

These included the financial level of giving required for participation, the size of the group, electing “officers,” and the possible introduction of another level of giving.

Upon revisiting, we found the amount we gave sometimes wasn’t enough to do what we wanted.  So after the first year we decided to add a few more members, establish a “silent partner” level of giving, and increase the level of giving overall.

In retrospect, I wish we had surveyed our group before we started the circle to determine how being in the circle has affected the amount and type of giving we do.

I’m certain that everyone’s giving to their “old” causes has stayed the same or gone up, and that new causes have been added.

* Don’t get overwhelmed

There are so many needs in our communities and there are so many agencies to choose from.

Rather than scouring directories of organizations for the neediest, most worthy or closest to your heart, think about projects that are in line with what your circle can help with and can impact, and even that are timely.

Read the newspaper and talk to your friends and colleagues to become aware of these types of opportunities.

Leslie Starsoneck lives at Brier Creek in Raleigh and started her giving circle in 2006.

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