Tapping the power of collective giving

Darryl Lester
Darryl Lester

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — A group of people in Durham who moved past homelessness with the help of Housing for New Hope and wanted to give back to the group, formed an unofficial “alumni association” that took on the task of looking for homeless people under bridges and on the streets and trying to connect them with the nonprofit and its services.

And with a small grant from Next Generation of African-American Philanthropists, or NGAAP, a “giving circle” housed at the Triangle Community Foundation, the alumni group visited members of North Carolina’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., to talk about policy changes to better address the problem of homelessness.

Formed in 2003, NGAAP is part of a Raleigh-based national organization known as the Community Investment Network that works to boost the work of giving circles in which African Americans and other communities of color pool their charitable dollars and make grants to community groups that often are off the radar of institutional funders.

CIN, which was formed in 2005 by philanthropic consultant Darryl Lester and his wife Dionne, who has served as administrator of the Raleigh-based network, now has hired its first full-time executive director and aims to continue to help develop and support giving circles throughout the United States, particularly in the South.

“The vision for the Community Investment Network was to demystify what philanthropy is, to help folks be more strategic with how they use their time, talent and treasure,” says Lester, a former program officer at the Triangle Community Foundation who left the organization in 2001 and, with his wife, formed Hindsight Consulting.

Through the network, he says, “people could be more civically engaged, with a space to provide more education for the ordinary working-class donors.”

In addition to focusing on community-based philanthropy, Hindsight Consulting initially consulted with an effort at the Ford Foundation that was working to try to encourage foundations to invest in the American South.

That effort, Lester says, found “there was giving outside of foundations that needed to be more strategic and focus on addressing issues of race and equity in the South.”
Hindsight Consulting has assisted in the formation of 11 giving circles, with a total of 175 members, that are part of the Community Investment Network.

Those giving circles, including five in the Triangle, one in Charlotte and the remainder outside the state, all are housed at their local community foundations and collectively make grants totaling about $50,000 a year.

The network provides technical support for giving circles and convenes members to talk about topics like fund development and grantmaking.

Chad U. Jones, a former program officer at the Marguerite Casey Foundation in Seattle who in May joined the network as its Denver-based executive director, says giving circles tap into “a whole ecosystem of donors and philanthropists who give smaller amounts” and can have a “collective influence” in stimulating social change.

Characterizing himself as a “giving-circle organizer,” Jones aims to expand the network’s roster of giving circles and continue to “expand the notion of community philanthropy, connecting people engaged in all facets of philanthropy.”

Lester, who says giving circles help community foundations better understand community-based giving, sees ongoing challenges for giving circles.

Those include avoiding the pitfall of competing for donations with the community groups they support, and helping “marginalized” communities make the “psychological” transition from being the beneficiaries of philanthropy to becoming donors.

“It takes a while,” Lester says, “to move people from the demand side of giving to the supply side.”

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