2017: A year in review

Maeve Richards is the manager of Giving Circles Fund, an initiative of the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation.

Giving Circles Fund (GCF), in its second year since merging with the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation, has seen a huge year of growth. Members of GCF circles have given over $80,000 this year — over a 20% increase since last year. GCF plays only a part in a much, much larger movement — giving circles as a philanthropic force have been on the rise since they were first formally studied over ten years ago. In those ten years, thousands of people have joined giving circles, in various formats, to learn more about giving, to scale impact collaboratively and ultimately to build a movement that feels much larger than the sum of its parts.

A new study by the Collective Giving Research Group, published in November 2017, has begun to capture and examine the growth of the giving circle movement. According to their research, in 2016, there were an estimated 1,600 giving groups — triple the number that existed in 2007. The forces driving this momentum span a wide range of reasons, but there exist some trends: giving circle members are motivated to join circles by their interest in giving more strategically, to leverage their giving and to engage with their communities.

A giving circle, by the definition of the research group, is a group of individuals who pool their philanthropic money and collaboratively determine how to allocate it to support nonprofits and other entities doing social impact work. And as the movement has grown, infrastructure has begun to develop alongside it — there are a number of different types of organizations and networks that support giving circles. Many, like Women’s Collective Giving Grantmaking Network, Amplifier, Asian American/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, Community Investment Network and many more*, support the giving work of specific communities. Meanwhile, different circles use a variety methodologies to operate, including receiving support from a larger network, being hosted or fiscally sponsored by a community foundation or even establishing independent 501(c)(3) status. Despite the different strategies various circles have used, determining administrative best practice (and feasible practice) is an ongoing task for circles and presents some of the biggest questions for the field — especially as circles and networks continue to scale.

For the first time ever, this November, Amplifier (with the help of a dedicated design team and support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) led an effort to convene 20 leaders of giving circle networks to better understand the giving circle movement — past, present and future — and to learn from one another about how to better support existing circles and grow the movement. In attendance representing GCF, my colleague and I had the exceptional opportunity to learn from the people behind some of the most impressive philanthropic work of the decade. Between the stories of fellow network leaders and reports on the latest giving trends, we are more sure than ever that giving circles are an essential force for social change — and that anyone committed can successfully lead an impactful circle.

As the giving circle movement has grown, as aforementioned, administration of circles has emerged as an increasing challenge — many circles have struggled to find sustainable host organizations. Meanwhile, there has been an increase in online giving in recent years. Online giving has proved convenient, especially for those making recurring gifts — in 2016, monthly renewal giving to nonprofits via recurring online charges increased 23%. This year, Facebook and Google piloted ‘Donate’ features to streamline the giving process for users interacting with nonprofits online. Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Crowdpac offer platforms for donation to a wide variety of causes. And indeed, the emergence of online giving presents a potential part of a solution to the problem of administration currently facing giving circles. At Giving Circles Fund, we believe that by offering all circles a free mechanism for collecting their donations and disbursing grants, we can be part of the answer to questions emerging for a scaling movement — and hopefully make philanthropy more convenient for our users, too.

While different circles are motivated by different causes or focus areas, the experience of membership in a giving circle seems to have effects in common. Members of giving circles report feeling more effective in their philanthropy — and in an era of innumerable giving opportunities, effective decision-making is critical. It is estimated that through giving circles, people have given over $1 billion: the accomplishments of this field are already vast, and in a world where public will to give is so high that this year’s #GivingTuesday saw $274 million raised for nonprofits, the potential is too. At GCF, we are on a mission shared by all of our giving circle network colleagues — to connect givers to resources and opportunities that can take their giving to the next level as they grow and join the collaborative giving movement.

To learn more about GCF, visit givingcirclesfund.org or email info@givingcirclesfund.org

Giving circle networks and platforms:

100 Who Care Alliance


Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy Giving Circle Network

Awesome Foundation

Bread for the Journey

Circles.org (Foundation for Sustainable Development)


Community Investment Network

Dining for Women

Giving Projects Network

Impact 100


Jewish Teen Funders Network

Jewish Women’s Funding Network

Latino Giving Circle Network

Native Giving Circle Network

Social Justice Fund

Social Venture Partners

Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network

Youth Philanthropy Connect


Want to join or start a circle and have questions? Email info@givingcirclesfund.org.

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