Marsha Morgan (Community Investment Network), Athan Lindsay (Community Foundation of Greensboro), Cora Mirikitani (Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy) and Jacqueline Martinez Garcel (Latino Community Foundation) at a recent Giving Circle event in Seattle, Washington.
What started four years ago as one small group of Latinas has grown into a network of 21 giving circles with 500 members, investing more than $1 million to support causes throughout California.
This work of the Latino Community Foundation (LCF) is just one example of impact made possible through the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Catalyzing Community Giving program, an effort to strengthen identity-based philanthropy through capacity building, network building, and donor engagement.
LCF took the concept of giving circles and made it core to its mission, according to CEO Jacqueline Martinez Garcel. As a result, individuals driven by a sense of justice are pooling their resources to invest in Latinx-led community organizations throughout California.
More importantly, Garcel notes, giving circles have been a vehicle to activate and mobilize Latinxs of all generations to become more civically engaged in their communities.
That ethos is also strong in another participant in Kellogg’s Catalyzing Community Giving program: The Community Investment Network’s Giving Circles, a nationwide initiative to develop the next generation of African American philanthropists.
CIN supports more than 15 circles in this network, providing resources and an annual convening to share and celebrate the work. As part of that, CIN leads a college initiative of giving circles, called #WeArePhilanthropists. “It’s up to us to make sure the next generation of philanthropists understand how impactful philanthropy can be, and how to give strategically and intentionally,” says Marsha Morgan, CIN’s board chair.
For Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy – also part of Kellogg’s CCG program – the work with giving circles is motivated by observing that traditional organized philanthropy has not adequately responded to community needs. The AAPI population has been growing at an explosive rate, but not seeing commensurate growth in philanthropic funding, explains AAPIP CEO Cora Mirikitani.
“The beauty of giving circle work is that at root it’s quite simple,” Mirikitani says. “Everyone can get involved, and I think that’s what makes it so appealing.”
There’s also strength in numbers, Mirikitani notes. “It provides a platform to build a much larger network. It really is about the opportunity to build a movement, starting with folks who are basically small donors, who are empowered because they’re part of something bigger than themselves.”
Giving circles also create a more democratic process, Mirikitani adds, and help to demystify philanthropy, which is usually associated with large, wealthy foundations or individuals. “Philanthropy is not something that other people do. It’s something that is embedded in each and every one of us.”
AAPIP saw these outcomes in a 5-year campaign to create 50 giving circles nationwide, between 2011 and 2015. They ultimately exceeded that goal, building 54 circles that together raised more than $3.3 million, engaged more than 5,000 donors, and made grants to nearly 500 AAPI organizations and causes.
For giving circle participants, their experience animated the idea that “even smaller donors working together can make a big difference,” Mirikitani says. They realized that they represent a movement, filling a need that was not being met before.
The power of collective giving is also crucial in the Latino Community Foundation’s work. In measuring outcomes, Garcel notes simply looking to the amount invested by giving circle members. Last year, LCF’s giving circle hit the $1 million mark in direct contributions to Latino-led organizations in California. Yet, while that’s reason to celebrate, Garcel stresses, “it’s important to look beyond that.”
For example, many employers of people involved in LCF giving circles are beginning to contribute to the opportunities identified by the circle. In addition, giving circle members are using their time, talents, and connections to invest in the success of the organizations they support. This year, LCF is starting to track those figures and encouraging employers – including Cisco, Kaiser, Facebook and Dropbox – to start their own giving circles.
The power of giving circles is also seen in other ways, says Morgan of the Community Investment Network. “This is grassroots giving in the finest way, because it allows you to really amplify the needs of your community. Community knows what community needs.”
People of color aren’t often seen as philanthropists, Morgan notes. Part of CIN’s work is to support donors so that “as we are improving our communities, those communities see people looking like them making that difference.”
Creating and supporting giving circles takes significant resources, however.
“The challenge is really scaling this work,” Garcel notes. “It’s difficult, because the work is very high touch.” LCF is educating new philanthropists, “individuals and families who’ve never really been invited to the table to be ‘philanthropists,’ and creating a new generation of changemakers grounded in philanthropy takes a long term perspective, time, and continued energy.”
Mirikitani wonders what can be done to connect all the networks of giving circles, as the concept continues to proliferate. “Do we need a connecting backbone? Some kind of shared peer infrastructure?”
She also points out that giving circles “don’t grow out of nowhere. Someone has to be the ground-floor investor.” In many respects, the Kellogg Foundation was far ahead of its time with the idea of catalyzing community giving, she adds. “I’m hoping that the results, after a number of years of doing this, is ‘Yes, that was a good strategy and there’s a good return on investment.’”
The question now, Mirikitani says, is how to make a case for many other funders to join in this line of work. “It doesn’t require a lot of money to create a giving circle. So how can we create a movement within philanthropy to begin to grow this work?”