Thursday, July 19, 2007

"Fundraising Success" Internet Radio/Podcast: WXEL/NPR member station

“The Fundraising Guru”
Giving Circles: Grassroots Revolution in Philanthropy
by Stephen L. Goldstein

Recently, I spoke with a number of people around the country about “the giving circles explosion—the nationwide trend revolutionizing grassroots philanthropy. “Circles” are groups of small donors who pool their contributions and then collectively decide how to donate them. Men and women who never realized how they could multiply the effect of their donations have been transformed through their involvement in giving circles. (All of those interviews are available at, the worldwide platform of my radio show on WXEL National Public Radio, to which you can listen at any time.)

I was especially thrilled to talk with people who are members of giving circles, because they are remarkable and unassuming--at the same time. A lot of people talk about what’s American. I would propose that giving circles are quintessentially us: average, socially conscious, generous people—who don’t have to be billionaires--come together to give their money to make life better for everyone. In community after community, they are shaping their circles to reflect themselves.

Facts and figures about the success of giving circles speak for themselves. There are thousands of them in 44 states and Washington, D.C. A third of the groups have been formed in the past two years. Beth Schwinn’s article on them in The Chronicle of Philanthropy ( reports that circles gave away an estimated $13 million in grants in 2006 and a total of about a phenomenal $88 million since 2000.

Schwinn’s piece is based upon the report, “More Giving Together: The Growth and Impact of Giving Circles and Shared Giving” from the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers. Collaborator on the report, Daria Teutonico, happily told me that “giving circles are here to stay.” (I would suggest that their success is at least partially because of their flexibility. The beauty is that there is no rigid formula for them: some have just a handful of members, others have hundreds. In some cases, circles have agreed upon giving a set amount of money, but others don’t. The full report is available free at

I was inspired, talking with Rebecca Powers of Impact Austin (, a giving circle of 416 women that just donated $416,000 to four local nonprofits. Natasha Gore, of The Fondue Fund ( in North Carolina, has just 15 members. It is committed to “double-empowerment”: It first empowers the young women in the circle by multiplying the effect of their donations, then empowers other women by making its grants to organizations that serve them. It has raised $14,000 in a year-and-a-half.

Christine Jordan, of the Zawadi giving circle (, and her 13 African-American colleagues in New Orleans have raised $24,000 in less than two years to create long-term improvement in the quality of life for the African-American community. Ana Gloria Rivas-Vásquez of Smart Women with Spare Change (, a giving circle of Latina moms on Key Biscayne, Florida teaches women about making money--and, at the same time, giving it away to nonprofits. Darrell Lester, founding partner of Hindsight Consulting, has helped start nine giving circles. He is quick to point out that they are “not for women only.” (Nationwide about 47 percent include men.)

The final word on giving circles is how powerful it is for people to come together for a greater purpose. What goes around a giving circle, comes around to the benefit of everyone.

Stephen L. Goldstein is the author of 30 Days to Successful Fundraising and the host of “Fundraising Success,” available at any time on the worldwide platform of WXEL National Public Radio. Email him at

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