In essence, giving circles are a straightforward idea. When a group of individuals act collectively by pooling their donations, and together decide which charity to support, this is a giving circle.
While giving circles can be very varied, we know from research in the U.S. that circles that typically exhibit common five characteristics: they pool and give away resources, educate members about philanthropy and issues in the community, include a social dimension, engage their members and maintain their independence. This collaborative approach and emphasis on donor education creates a powerful and influential model for individuals on the early stages of their ‘philanthropy journey’. It also provides a relatively easy entry point for anyone to wanting to experiment with philanthropy and have a social impact.
You can find out more in this short article downloaded here.
And here is a nice graphic from Philanthropy Together!
What is a Giving Circle?
A giving circle pools the donations of its members, who choose which charity to support. But there is a growing body of evidence that membership of a giving circle can help a person become a better donor. Studies from North America, UK and Asia support the suggestion that actively participating in a giving circle can help change knowledge about and attitude towards philanthropy and the non-profit sector. It can also change behaviour - members say they tend to give more, give more strategically, and are more likely to volunteer and become more active in their community.
The graphic summarises how being a giving circle member changes the way a person thinks about giving, charities and getting involved in their community. You can download the graphic here. You can find a short article summarising this research here.
Why are Giving Circles important?
No, not at all! In many of the giving circles I've studied in Asia members contribute modest, regular amounts and perhaps supplement with one-off donations as their circumstances allow (for example, when receiving an employment bonus).
My 2014 study of 35 giving circles in 8 Asian countries revealed the smallest monthly member contribution was just US$16. But more generally I designated the annual member donation bands as ‘small’ (less than US$1,000), ‘medium’ (up to US$5,000) and ‘large’ (up to US$20,000).
Are Giving Circles only for wealthy people?
We don't know how many there are in such a large and diverse region, particularly as many are likley to be small and informally structured. My own study in 2017 identified 66 circles in 10 countries - you can view the list here - but that number was only a snapshot in time. While some of those may have closed down, it's likely many more have started up or become public.
Philanthropy Together, based in the US, together with their partners, plans to crate a searchable register of giving circles globally.
How many giving circles are there in Asia?
Is a Giving Circle the same as a Donor Circle?
Giving circles are established by a group of individuals who have the independence to freely choose which non-profit organisation they will support from the circle's pooled donations. Donor circles are usually set up by a non-profit organisation as a fundraising tool for existing donors or to attract new ones. Both models can act to help educate donors about social issues, create social opportunities that make giving more enjoyable. There seems to be no research on donor circles to help us understand if there impact knowledge, attitude and behaviour as we know giving circles do.
James Boyd (Creative Partnerships Australia) has written a short piece about how to set up a donor circle and his article distinguishes them from giving circles - you can download his article in the Guide to IT and Funraising (2016) here.