What is a giving circle?
A giving circle is a form of philanthropy in which a group pools their resources to invest in an organization. By combining their resources, members make a significant impact on an organization.
Additionally, by coming together in the decision making process, as well as volunteering with the organization, giving circle members create connections with each other and their broader community.
How it Works
In the spring, members nominate and vote on prospective organizations. The top few organizations from the initial voting are invited to submit a proposal detailing how SPROUT's money and volunteer hours would make a difference to their organization.
After voting on the final choice, SPROUT members write their checks to the chosen organization and begin their volunteer hours. Last July, we kicked off the season with a potluck at Marra Farm.
Over the past eight months, SPROUT volunteers have dedicated their time by volunteering together for Lettuce Link, hauling compost and weeding at Marra Farm, and repacking bulk seeds into small packets for distribution at local food banks this spring.
For Lettuce Link, the SPROUT dollars are funding my AmeriCorps position. By pooling their resources, SPROUT provides Lettuce Link the funds for a full-time AmeriCorps position. This exponentially increases the capacity of our program. We've had a record year -- we've taught more kids gardening and nutrition at Marra Farm, recruited more volunteers harvested more food for the food bank at Marra Farm, and passed out more seeds and plant starts than any previous year. Providing a job in this tough economy is an added bonus.
Each SPROUT volunteer logs 30 hours with Lettuce Link over the course of the year. Thanks to all their help packing seeds, we are well-ahead of schedule for our distribution at the food banks in March!
Could You Do This?
This is an easy-to-replicate model of philanthropy. According to a report by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers last spring, people are more knowledgeable about non-profit organizations and issues in their communities when they participate in a giving circle.
SPROUT members come from a variety of backgrounds. They are married with children and single, homeowners and renters, job secure and in-between jobs, students and professors. But they are all willing to show up once a month to volunteer together, developing an obvious camaraderie and commitment to an organization through their collective time and resources.
Giving circles vary widely based on their founding philosophy and membership, but all have the same dedication to concurrently building community amongst members while serving the broader community. What could your giving circle look like? How could you make a difference to a local non-profit?
-Robin, Lettuce Link
For more information on giving circles, see:
NPR: Donors Turn to Giving Circles as Economy Drops (May 14, 2009)
Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers: 10 Basic Steps to Starting a Giving Circle