Joining Forces: The Rise of Giving Circles

Audio Description

Giving circles are a great way for new donors to spread their philanthropic wings. Learn more about this growing form of collective giving.


This transcript has been generated by an A.I. tool. Please excuse any typos.

Clare Golla: Giving circles are on the rise.

From 2007 to 2017, the number of circles actually tripled in the U. S., according to the Lilly School of Philanthropy.

And today, Philanthropy Together reports that there are more than 2, 500 giving circles operating in the U. S. alone, with nearly 150, 000 members giving away almost 1.3 billion collectively.

What are giving circles exactly, and what is fueling this form of collective giving? Stay tuned as we hear from two giving circle mavens.

[00:00:35] Hi, everyone. Welcome to Inspired Investing. I'm your host, Clare Golla, Head of Philanthropic Services at Bernstein.

This podcast is where we strive to connect and share insights with listeners like you who are engaged in philanthropy, nonprofit, and the broader social sector.

To tell us all about this fast growing form of giving, We have two amazing women on today who have each been involved in giving circles for around twenty plus years.

[00:01:00] Bonnie Young is the president of the Do Gooders, a giving circle with about sixty members located in the Philadelphia area.

And Kyle Ruffin is the founder of Impact 100 of South Jersey. Thank you so much both of you for being here with me today.

[00:01:14] Kyle Ruffin: Our pleasure. Yes, thanks for having us.

[00:01:16] Clare Golla: It's great to see you both and hear your voices, so I'm just gonna dig right in.

[00:01:21] Look, many of our clients are early in their philanthropy career, right?

They've either just exited a business, or they've inherited dollars, or they're even stepping into a decision making role at their own family foundation for the first time, for example.

And so, number one question is often about how can they learn from what others are doing?

[00:01:39] So, that's why we really wanted to showcase Giving Circles today.

It's this massively growing trend in philanthropy. So, let's just level set here.

Philanthropy Together defines giving circles as groups that bring people with shared values together to collectively discuss and decide where to make a pooled gift.

[00:01:58] So maybe for starters, each of you can give just a brief intro on how you first became involved in your circle. Um, why don't we start with you, Bonnie?

[00:02:07] Bonnie Young: Yes, of course. The way we got started is, we were actually a bunch of women that were out to, uh, rather expensive, fancy lunches.

And one of the women, who is my, my mentor, and a real dion of Philadelphia, who's since passed away, said, I'm really tired of this.

[00:02:24] I want to take the money that we're spending for lunches, let's pool it together. And let's start to give it to those in need.

And her suggestion was to begin with our city's most vulnerable citizens, our children. So we found a small afterschool daycare called Treehouse Books.

And from that, it just began to grow.

[00:02:44] And we found that we so much more enjoyed giving of ourselves and getting involved in the community rather than having, not that we don't like, but another fancy lunch.

That was the beginning of our journey.

[00:02:56] Clare Golla: I love that. I feel like we have so many listeners who are probably thinking, yes, there's so much more beyond the thousand dollar chicken salad sandwich, right?

[00:03:06] Exactly. Absolutely. And the fact that you had that direct connectivity, right, with the organization is, is great.

So Kyle, your story is a little bit different as is the giving circle that you're involved in now.

So. How did your involvement come about and share with us a little bit about Impact 100?

[00:03:23] Kyle Ruffin: Well, I was a long time board member for the community foundation of South Jersey.

[00:03:28] And when I became a member of the board, we were looking for an opportunity to have a giving circle among our board members.

Uh, but each of the board members was sort of at a. different financial level and it just didn't feel like it was going to be something that we could all feel equally a part of.

[00:03:48] So we started to explore women's giving and the difference between, uh, the reasons men give and the reasons women give, you know, is there a difference?

And we discovered, yes, there is a difference. And apparently there's a research out there that proves that to be true.

So we embarked on a couple of different Uh, projects to figure out, you know, what this could look like in South Jersey.

[00:04:12] Once we started to explore that, the model just worked.

It was perfect for, you know, being able to bring women together locally and have an impact on our local community.

And our members really bond over creating a pool of resources that the South Jersey nonprofits do not have to compete with Philadelphia.

[00:04:34] Or North Jersey for that's great.

[00:04:36] Clare Golla: And tell me a little bit about what the chapters do.

[00:04:39] Kyle Ruffin: Uh, impact 100 is just one of an infinite number of giving circle, you know, uh, makeups.

And in order to call yourself an impact 100, you need to be.

Striving to recruit at least 100 women to each donate 1, 000 and you then, uh, at the end of your year or whatever the, your impacts year is, you give away at least one 100, 000 grant to a local organization.

[00:05:08] And for us, the way we divide things up is that anything we raise over a hundred.

We, uh, divide between our second and third place, um, vote getters.

[00:05:21] Clare Golla: So I'm hearing, um, well, first of all, I love that you started to dig into differences along gender lines in terms of giving.

And it's interesting because some studies on giving circles show that there are more women, younger donors, uh, donors of color.

[00:05:38] It really is this, um, sort of, stepping stone or pathway for a broader group or community of donors across the globe to actually give in this way with giving circles.

And so this is an interesting way for women to become involved and really educate themselves in philanthropy.

And so on that note, both Bonnie and Kyle, I'd love to hear from you, um, some of the benefits that You believe maybe fueling this rise in, in giving circles and popularity.

[00:06:12] Bonnie Young: Well, I think that the grassroots situation that our little organization has is so important, especially because we're talking about many emotional.

Situations where people are underserved or abused or haven't had the opportunities that a lot of us have had the connection is one of the most important things besides the funds, of course, because there's nothing better in this world.

[00:06:38] And it's the only time I think I've ever had the opportunity to give something where I haven't made a big deal out of it to my children. I did this.

I don't, I don't, I just am happy to do it.

And, um, it's, it's very rewarding to most of our members.

It's sort of a cozy kind of atmosphere where you think that you are helping people and you can look them in the eye, become friends with them.

[00:07:02] It's a situation where you really, uh, are eye to eye with people and many of them accept you and you accept them just as friends, which we never would ordinarily know.

So that's a very, very wonderful thing to be able to do.

[00:07:19] Clare Golla: That's amazing. It's, you know, I think about this. Saying proximity yields understanding.

[00:07:25] Kyle, how about you?

What are some of the benefits that you see, um, from, from being involved in Impact 100, but beyond that giving circles?

[00:07:33] Kyle Ruffin: Well, similar to what Bonnie said, one of the things our members report back to us is having now this new knowledge of organizations that they had no idea existed in our community.

[00:07:44] Organizations that are doing good work, that, uh, aren't those household names. that everybody knows and kind of automatically says, Oh, I'm going to give to X because I just saw a commercial about that.

I feel like we've been able to elevate the visibility of a lot of smaller unknown nonprofits among our members.

[00:08:06] Um, and among some of the other people who are in our universe and for our members too, they now consider themselves philanthropists.

You know, some of them might have already been like philanthropists, uh, because they were giving away large sums of money, but at a thousand dollars, uh, they are contributing to a pool of money that is.

[00:08:30] It's definitely a large number, a very transformative grant for the organizations.

You know, I've heard them come back and say, you know, I saw an article about this organization that we just gave to, and God, I feel so good because I was a part of helping that happen.

So it is building that relationship, that familiarity, that.

[00:08:50] That bond between our members and the organizations that are making a difference.

And we, we also encourage them to get involved in other ways.

So we have a very strong beyond the check movement in that we host events with our grantees.

We encourage our members to, you know, join their board or become a volunteer, uh, to do more than just write the check and walk away.

[00:09:17] I love that there's flexibility, right? Someone can just give the thousand dollars, right?

And be, and be done with it. But there's that opportunity, there's that community.

And there's really that social aspect of it, too, as I'm hearing you both talk about really developing relationships here, some of which you may not otherwise develop.

[00:09:33] So one of the things that I'd love for each of you to share about is you have, you each have so many stories, right, to share from your giving circle.

So I'd love for each of you to share, you know, about a particular grant maybe that stands out for you as being memorable.

And so Bonnie, I'd love to start with you.

[00:09:51] Sure.

[00:09:52] Bonnie Young: There was a gentleman, he's an artist and a professor at Temple University, and he was accosted on the street by a gang.

And I guess that was what they had to do to get in the gang. And he was very disabled for a long time.

So what we did is every six months or so, we sent him 500. We also sent him food.

[00:10:15] We kept in touch with them. So last year we had a big event. Uh, it was, um, bringing back the Halston brand of clothing and their scholarship.

And this man has become the artist and the spokesperson behind the scenes for. Halston.

And he says that the monies that we gave him, not that it changed his life, but it gave him the little things that we did changed so much for him.

[00:10:43] And now he's a well renowned artist and his things are selling for a fortune and he's launched and he's back on top and we had a little part in it.

So, you know, those are the kinds of success stories that you

[00:10:59] Clare Golla: love. That's a great, I love that. Um, Kyle, how about you?

Kyle Ruffin: And there are so many great stories about the way our impact chapter has had kind of a ripple effect on different organizations, allowing them to then ultimately go, uh, and apply for other grants because they've created this wonderful grant package or application for us.

[00:11:20] Uh, one of the most heartwarming stories is really about, uh, a grant that we gave to Ronald McDonald House.

In Camden. So I was in 2019. We were able to award a 100, 000 grant, but then the, uh, the second and third place organizations each received 27,500 because, uh, we had raised a Uh, enough to, to come up with that total.

[00:11:46] And Ronald McDonald House was one of the runner ups.

And what they had applied for was to have all the carpet replaced throughout the facility in Camden.

And they were going to put the 27.5 toward that.

Uh, but one of our members, her and her husband happened to own a flooring company.

So they went to, uh, the, the head of Ronald McDonald House and said that they would do the entire job.

[00:12:12] which would have cost at least 100, 000, they would do the entire job for the 27.5.

So they brought in volunteers, they did the work, and uh, Ronald McDonald House got their 100,000 project completed, thanks to the kindness of one of our members.

So the connections that get made. You just, there's, there's so many unintended good consequences.

[00:12:36] Exactly. You open the door for a possibility, an opportunity.

And I think that Impact 100 has definitely done that for, for our members and for the community that we all love.

[00:12:48] Clare Golla: It's such a great demonstration or reflection of, right, you've got your people give their time, their talent, their treasure, right?

[00:12:55] But also their ties.

[00:12:57] Bonnie Young: That's probably the most important thing. As far as giving circles, it is this social capital.

[00:13:03] Bonnie Young: I cannot tell you what Kyle said is just so true.

What's happened. Myriads of times in our organization, it's all about who you know, and can you pick up the phone and ask them?

That's, you know, the worst thing they can say is no.

[00:13:19] Clare Golla: Yeah, and nobody usually does.

Now everybody's going to want to get Bonnie in their, Bonnie in their circle now that she's like, I'll call anyone and ask them.

[00:13:27] Bonnie Young: Exactly. Exactly.

One other thing I just wanted to quickly tell you, because I think it's a wonderful story. Uh, if you have a moment there, there is a program in the Philadelphia schools.

[00:13:37] For disabled children who have learning disabilities, there are programs where they can go to school to age 21.

And what we found out is we were asked if we could create sort of home like settings in these Philadelphia schools.

So children who don't know how to use a washing machine, Don't know what to wear, don't know how to cook.

[00:14:01] And we were able to make four different classrooms in various schools in the city.

And many of the people that were in our group, they gave the refrigerators.

If they were in that business, they gave the carpet, they gave the furniture.

So that that's another thing. Reusing. One of the things I think that's very overlooked is there's so much waste.

[00:14:20] Clare Golla: Yeah, that's a great story, so thank you.

Um, so you've both been at this now for so long, and you're a wealth of information.

I'm curious about what you both think is the biggest change that you've seen in giving circles or, or in your giving circle, for instance, over the course of the last couple of decades.

[00:14:40] I'll, I'll start with you, Kyle.

[00:14:41] Kyle Ruffin: I would say that the trust based philanthropy is really, uh, something that we are grappling with a lot in our, among our leadership council members and the things that, uh, trickle through to our members because...

There are so many organizations out there that are doing great work, but we are holding them to this standard that they can't focus on the mission and focus on all of the little things that are required of them.

[00:15:12] So we've, we are trying very hard to strike a balance between being less onerous when it comes to the, what we require of them, but making sure that our members are still satisfied that the decision was a good one.

To support the organization. So we are still working very hard through that, um, that and sort of the diversity, equity, and inclusion.

[00:15:36] Uh, and for us, we added the B belonging.

That's something else that we talk about it a lot and have had to figure out where that intersected with our mission.

Where does diversity, equity, and inclusion and belonging fit for us in a way that we can. respected and meaningfully move forward, uh, with, with a mission that is informed by that.

[00:16:01] So I think those two things are, are really what everybody is kind of dealing with these days on their individual levels.

[00:16:09] Clare Golla: Yeah, and I'll just share, before I turn to you, Bonnie, I just want to share a little bit more on that trust based philanthropy, um, that, that phrase, because not everyone, you know, on the line may, may recognize the term.

[00:16:22] It's really just a set of principles and practices.

It was created by a group of funders, by a group of foundations, and the intent is to increase equity across funders, so the folks that are in the giving circle, like Impact 100 or the do gooders, right?

Thank you. And the grantee organizations, the recipients of those dollars, um, who are, you know, representing the, the community that is in, you know, receipt of those dollars.

[00:16:46] And so there are a number of different things that you're both doing that actually giving circles naturally, I'd say, are embracing, which are a part of trust based philanthropy.

And the big part that you've both described today is this giving beyond the check. Right.

And also I think with that close proximity to organizations really asking the community, asking the organization, what is it that you need?

[00:17:09] Right. Like Bonnie, you gave a great example of the school saying, look, we need these classrooms converted into, you know, a place where students can actually, uh, work through transitional life skills for when they're, you know, Ready to move.

So listening, right? I think it's so much of it is about listening and communication.

[00:17:29] And also that speaks to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

And I love that you added belonging, Kyle. That's a, that's a great add on to that phrase. So, so Bonnie, I'm curious, uh, from, from your perspective, what has changed maybe within do gooders, but also just more generally in these giving circles over the last 20 years.

[00:17:48] Bonnie Young: In the beginning, we were 10 or 12 people.

Somebody asked for money. They wrote a little grant request. We gave him the money. And what we did was we did follow up and we try not to give money, Kyle.

I don't know about, we don't give money. We give goods if we can. That way we know that the dollars are going where they're supposed to go.

[00:18:06] Not that we don't trust anybody, but it's just the way we do it.

And I find that I called some of the girls in our, Or people in our organization, because we do have men, the SPT, the sales prevention team, they think of every way why we shouldn't give the grant. And it never was before.

It was never like that.

[00:18:26] But I think that, uh, there's been so much bad press or whatever that we have to overcome that by going around it.

Luckily, I get my point across and so do a few of the other people. So eventually we do get the grants.

Approved, but it's been a process and as we've grown, we've also had to change voting members and non voting members and people that want to be social members.

[00:18:49] You know, people just want to give them money. It's a process within our group that we never had before when we were smaller.

We want to make sure that we're in compliance.

We want to make sure that we're doing the right thing. We want to make sure that everything that we do has backup and that all of our records are fine.

[00:19:05] And Yeah. You know, it's, it's, it's much more complicated than it was when we were.

[00:19:12] Clare Golla: Yeah, I mean, there, there are growing pains, and I think that's also a reflection of the whole idea of accountability too, right?

As you grow up as an organization, you need to build in the governance, right, structures, and you need to hold yourselves accountable the same way you're asking organizations that you're giving money to, right, to hold themselves accountable.

[00:19:32] So I think that's, yeah. Exactly. You know, we're all holding ourselves to a, to a certain standard.

Um, so you've both given us so much to think about. Any final thoughts? I'll turn it to you, Kyle. Just like what

[00:19:43] Kyle Ruffin: you were just talking about, about the, the governance and the accountability and, and you know, I, I always talk about how Impact 100 is like a duck floating on a pond.

[00:19:53] You know, it's like on the surface, it's just. It's, it's just like moving very smoothly and, uh, with little resistance and underneath it's paddling like crazy.

And that is, that is Impact 100.

It's a lot of work, giving circles all together because you have so many people that you want to keep engaged and, and keep satisfied and make sure that their voice is heard.

[00:20:17] But it's worth it when you come from that annual meeting, the glow, the feeling when you know, you've just given a hundred thousand dollars to a really organization.

And like, you can't, you can't replace that feeling with anything else.

[00:20:32] Bonnie Young: Thank you, Bonnie. I totally agree.

And I find that the more we spread our tentacles and the more people we get involved in, the easier in some ways it gets, because the synergy that it creates and the ease.

[00:20:46] Just picking up the phone. I think that once you start, you cannot believe the benefits that can happen. Networking is probably the best way to spread philanthropy and to get the word out.

Uh, you can talk all you want, or you can read all the ads, or you can see all the ads, but when you're on the ground...

[00:21:06] And you've given something to somebody and you see their, their smile or you know that you've helped them. It makes all the difference in the world. Thank

[00:21:14] Clare Golla: you. That's so great, Bonnie. It's that's the fifth T it's talent, treasure, time, ties, and testimony, right?

So being out there and networking and spreading the word, I can't agree more.

[00:21:26] Thank you so much. Both of you, Kyle and Bonnie, yeah, for being here. I just really, really appreciate it. And that's all we have time for.

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