Nonprofits insist every dollar counts, and that's true, but they're looking at the big picture. When all those dollars are combined, they can make a big impact with those collective dollars. The same is true on the donor side. While not discounting the importance of individual giving, if multiple individuals with similar philanthropic goals pool their money together, they can make a bigger difference in their preferred cause.
That’s exactly what giving circles do. While not a new trend — as there were an estimated 50 giving circles in 1995 — this concept is projected to evolve to include 3,000 giving circles by 2025. Black giving circles, in particular, have been growing in popularity by giving members a strong voice and the power to back causes that matter to them. Sometimes these causes aren't top priorities in the overall philanthropist community though recent social justice events changed that by creating a spark in donations to causes aiming to address racial inequality, the racial wealth gap, unequal access to healthcare heightened by a pandemic, voting rights and gun violence, among others.
“The global health pandemic put a spotlight on the many societal ills that have plagued our nation since its inception,” Terry Love, co-founder of Real Engagement Through Active Philanthropy giving circle and board chair of the Community Investment Network, said. “I hope that last year’s social reckoning is not short lived, but the racial inequity and social justice movement continues beyond the voices of the parties currently involved until we see true, effective change. Additionally, I hope that nonprofits, organizations and giving circles can benefit from the increased attention to social justice movements, the conversations occurring nationwide and the work to be achieved during this movement.”
To strengthen those voices and needs in the Black community, Philanthropy Together, a global initiative developed in April 2020 to diversify and democratize philanthropy via the giving circle movement, has created opportunities, like its virtual program, Launchpad, that has trained more than 200 leaders to start their own giving circles. More than half of those leaders are starting circles to support racial equity or social justice causes, particularly those led by a minority. And its work is not done as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation provided a $1 million grant to continue its efforts over the next two years to ensure these causes aren’t forgotten.
“Amidst last year’s racial justice reckoning, Black-led organizations saw increases in donations nationwide—in some cases, up to 1000%,” Sara Lomelin, executive director of Philanthropy Together, said. “Black giving circle leaders have a unique first-hand glimpse into the needs of their communities and social justice movements bring people together to liberate and elevate entire communities and upend oppressive systems. The power of social movements rests in the same element that makes giving circles so impactful: the communal responsibility shared among members.”
In the second Q&A installment of a two-part series looking at Black giving, Lomelin and Love will discuss giving circle trends and how nonprofits can appeal to these giving circles, particularly Black giving circles.
When it comes to giving circles, why is this giving method growing among Black Americans?
Lomelin: Giving circles take the individual act of giving and multiply their impact through the power of connections. Together, giving circle members provide sustained support for communities, directly addressing the needs and filling in funding gaps. Most giving circles give where they live, thus they are well-informed on the issues within their community. Community knows what community needs. By coming together, Black Americans can strategically and thoughtfully deploy resources where they are most needed.
For example, Denver-based giving circles, Denver African American Philanthropists and Sisterhood of Philanthropists Impacting Needs teamed up to launch a community microgrant fund. Within the first three months, the fund provided more than 700 families and 10 Black-owned businesses with financial support at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Going beyond the dollars, HERitage Giving Fund is committed to truly being a community-centered giving circle. Based in Dallas Texas, HERitage funds Black women-led nonprofits serving Black women and girls. They invite nonprofit leaders into the conversation, by welcoming past grantee partners to meetings and to join the circle. In their most recent grant cycle, HERitage awarded Viola’s House with funds for their new Baby Benefit Store in South Dallas, Texas, which provides free and low-cost baby clothing/accessories, while generating income for the organization that houses homeless teen moms. With this investment, Viola’s House will be able to serve more young women and girls. Viola’s House was among seven recipients in their 2021 Q1 cycle who collectively received more than $56,000.
What impact have Black giving circles made and how can nonprofits appeal to these pools of philanthropists?
Lomelin: Despite contributing $1.29 billion over the past two decades to a variety of causes in the U.S., giving circles have long stood outside of traditional philanthropy. Giving circles are not new in the Black community and they are not exclusively American. They exist throughout Africa and its Diaspora, including the Caribbean and Latin America. Historically derived from West and Central Africa, today Black giving in America is expanding, in part, due to increased Black immigration from across the world, as well as their growth among African Americans. Regardless of their country origin, Black giving circles have historically supported its community through investment clubs and saving pools, as well as philanthropy. While each group operates uniquely, Black giving circle culture remains grounded in practices of giving, caring and sharing to survive.
Black-led giving circles, and the entire field of collective giving, challenge an historically exclusive sector by shattering power dynamics between those who give and those who receive; filling in funding gaps that are typically overlooked; and eliminating barriers to funding to deploy dollars quickly and where they’re most needed. As sophisticated philanthropists, giving circle members are equipped to make an impact by listening and understanding the community’s needs and giving beyond the dollar with time, talent and testimony.
Nonprofit leaders can find local giving circles by visiting the Global Giving Circle Directory by Philanthropy Together and Grapevine. Once connected with a giving circle, nonprofits can find prospective board members and ambassadors for their cause, as well as connections to more potential funding opportunities.
Love: The greatest success of any Black giving circle is getting the opportunity to bring a voice to worthy causes while changing the face of and modernizing the traditional ideas of philanthropy and charitable giving as a whole. Different cultures have some form of a collective response to the community’s needs. Black giving circles provide a lens through which the philanthropic community can see how African-Americans are shaping and influencing philanthropy.
Black giving circles have historically amplified and provided access to those individuals and nonprofits doing work that would typically go unnoticed by large donors or large funding agencies. Nonprofits that focus on and are inclusive of overlooked communities such as people of color, youth and minority populations typically appeal to Black giving circles. To appeal to these pools of philanthropists, a nonprofit’s values and goals must align with the giving circles’ agenda and the group(s) they are looking to serve. Nonprofits should also be able to display some significant impact in the communities they serve while being inclusive of and catering to the specific populations that the giving circles are targeting.
What’s next for Black giving circles or Black giving in general?
Love: Black giving has not stopped and will only continue. I look forward to seeing the future of Black philanthropy and celebrating and amplifying the impact that African-Americans and people of African descent are making in their communities through the power of individual and collective giving.