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What Comes Around Goes Around

circular hands
Funding for your organization can – and should – come from many sources. As advancement officers, it is incumbent upon us to be aware of traditional as well as newer forms of financial support. One relatively low profile, yet extremely impactful source of funds can come from local, regional, or national “giving circles.” For those not familiar with the concept, these are groups of individuals with common interests (social justice, the environment, arts, community well being, etc.) that pool their gifts, review funding options, make site visits (if possible), and award multiple grants on a scale much larger than most individuals could make on their own. When done well, the process is focused, inclusive, and educational.
If you are not already exploring finding and approaching giving circles that dovetail with your organization’s mission, you should consider immediately adding this to your to-do list. Here are a few reasons why.
1. Real dollars
Depending on the scale of the giving circle, grants can run in the four and five figure range. In addition to my consultant work here at Copley Raff, I am also involved with a regional giving circle that funds the well being of women and girls in Boston and Israel. Every year, we award and distribute about 20 grants ranging in size from $5,000 to $25,000+.
2. Accessibility
Giving circles, including the one I am involved with, are constantly looking for new organizations as potential places for their investment. It is not uncommon for giving circles to have funding limits of one to three years, so they must keep their pipelines full. Many of the people involved in community giving circles are not professional philanthropists. They are folks who love the circle’s mission and have joined in part to learn more about what’s out there, and to make a difference in an area of high priority to them. Given your organization conforms to their annual granting cycle, most welcome a personal introduction or a letter of inquiry.
3. Potential
Giving circles are a great place to find your next board member, local advocate or liaison, or talented volunteer. After all, these members already have exhibited a passion for your mission, understand the importance of philanthropy, are community focused, and work well in groups. Many of the women in my giving circle have gone on to join the boards and leadership of organizations we have funded.
Like with all funders, stewardship of giving circle funders is extremely important. Most giving circle decisions are made through hands on, member driven discussions. And everyone has different reasons for their preferences – some are driven by the numbers, others by the passion behind the mission. As a result, it is important to address both with your stewardship strategy. I have found that one overlooked but great way of doing this is by offering to give a presentation at the giving circle’s opening or closing event. This provides content for the event’s program (which is usually very much appreciated, trust me on this) and also keeps your organization top of mind as a good funding partner.
Another easy way to steward a giving circle is to invite their members to your organization for a mid-day “lunch and learn.” Programming can be relatively simple: deli sandwiches; a hearty thank you from your ED, President, or board chair; and a few “stories from the field” from the individuals personally benefiting from the giving circle’s gift.
I just attended an event in this format at an organization that provides low income senior housing. As a mission driven giver, I was most moved by hearing directly from the grantee’s director of facilities describing how the training he received as a result of our grant enabled him to identify seniors with severe mental health issues. In turn, he is now able to help those individuals prevent eviction that might result from their deteriorating decision making skills. Other giving circle members were touched by a report given by the CEO focusing on the number of people served, dollars saved, and community impact. Due to the quality and balanced nature of the presentations, the respectful mix of organizational representation, and interpersonal connections, all members of the giving circle left the meeting feeling wonderful about their grant decision.
And it’s no secret that everyone wants to fund – and continue to fund – a winner.
Your takes:
  • Explore giving circles as a new way to provide funding as well as highly motivated volunteers for your organization.
  • Many giving circles insist on a site visit as part of their decision making process. This is your opportunity to shine, so include the right people from your origination and have an agreed upon agenda. Do not “wing it.”
  • Stewardship is crucial when working with giving circles; provide opportunities for group interaction, storytelling, and top level acknowledgement.

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Have a development, executive recruitment, or campaign strategy or management challenge? Let’s talk! Click here to connect with Rebekah Kaufman, Director of Consulting Services at CRI.