Issue 9, Winter 2008
A. If you haven't yet heard of Giving Circles, you're about to. In the coming years Giving Circles have the potential to swell into a tsunami of grassroots philanthropy, and your organization's brand may make the difference as to whether or not you are the recipient of their generosity.
Simply stated, Giving Circles, sometimes referred to as Shared Giving, are philanthropic-minded people who, often as part of a social activity, give together to support charitable organizations. In fact, at least one circle, the Giving Circle of Hope in Reston, Virginia, refers to its activities as "fun with a purpose."
Giving Circles may count as few as four members or as many as several hundred, and their giving ranges from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
For example, in Key Biscayne, Florida, 20 moms — many of whom are Latina — founded the Smart Women with Spare Change Giving Circle. By contributing their spare change each month, the members have raised nearly $5,000 to invest in organizations that help women and girls. In Texas, a Giving Circle called Impact Austin, established in May 2003, claims more than 400 members, each of whom donates $1,000, per year. Last year Impact Austin invested $104,000 in each of four local nonprofits that fit their giving criteria — for a total of $416,000!
Regardless of giving amounts, Giving Circles present civic-minded individuals an opportunity to multiply the impact of their giving — and nonprofit organizations with an opportunity to cultivate new sources of revenue.
"With the same amount of money you'd use to write a check to a charity, you get to make more of a difference, spend more time with friends, and learn more about what your community needs." says Daria Teutonico, director of the New Ventures in Philanthropy Initiative at the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers.
Five years ago, few people had ever heard of a Giving Circle. In 2006, the New Ventures in Philanthropy Initiative at the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, in a nationwide survey, documented 400 Giving Circles across the U.S., at least one in nearly every state. An article in the January 2007 Delta Sky Magazine by Linda Daily entitled, "Just Causes — The Giving Back Gang", estimated there may be as many as 800 of these philanthropic entities.
Regardless of their numbers, to get an idea of the impact of Giving Circles, the Forum's survey sampled 160 circles across the country, and in June 2007 released a report of its findings called "More Giving Together". It found that:
Are you aware of anything that doesn't have a downside? But the ones mentioned below appear to be eminently manageable.
Research conducted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), and published in a March 2007 report called Giving Circles and Fundraising in the New Philanthropy Environment, says that Giving Circles are not always consistent in the expectations they place on nonprofits and may not sustain their giving over the long haul.
The AFP report adds that Giving Circles can be too focused on donors, creating challenges for charities to figure out quickly how to work with a mix of personalities and deal with donors who want to take a hands-on approach to their giving.
What this suggests to me is that when it comes to both giving and receiving, there should be a clear, upfront understanding of what is expected on the part of Giving Circles, as well as the nonprofits they seek to support. If both parties know what is expected of the other, each stands to gain from the giving-receiving transaction.
Depending on the communities in which they are located, as well as their giving criteria, individual Giving Circles have scores, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of nonprofits from which to choose to give their money. What do you think your chances would be of receiving their largesse if your organization was one of those "best kept secrets" that does wonderful work, but no one really knows who you are, what you do, how you do it — and why they should care enough to support you?
Although it may not always be the case, there is evidence that many Giving Circles also are seeking to support nonprofits that are transparent in their operations, hold themselves accountable for their behavior and can demonstrate measureable results and outcomes (see Branding Bytes #8).
According to Sandy Bettger, executive director of the Giving Circles Network, feedback from the GCN Giving Circles Advisory Panel, comprised of representatives from Giving Circles from across the U.S., nonprofits should consider the following brand characteristics when appealing to all donors, including Giving Circles:
"These are all the things a nonprofit should consider as it develops its 'brand' to distinguish itself from other organizations," says Bettger.
As always, I look forward to receiving your feedback, questions, success stories and branding challenges. Also, if you are in need of a motivational speaker, trainer, branding consultant/coach, or management consultant who can help you answer the questions: Who are we? What do we do? How do we do it? And should anyone care? I invite you to for more information.
In the meantime, good luck with your branding! — Larry
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