Want to make a bigger impact? Join a giving circle

Impact Austin 2018

Joining a giving circle is a great next-step when you are ready to go from the occasional cash gift to a more studied approach. Here’s why:

In a giving circle each member has to give the same amount, usually between $250 to $1500 or more, at the beginning of the cycle. Nonprofits then apply for a grant from your giving circle, then members evaluate each grant request and, at the end of the cycle, they collectively choose which programs will receive a grant — one member, one vote.

In some giving circles, all members are given access to all of the grant applications, which can be enlightening in itself. You get to see details and data about the program that the average donor rarely sees. Once the applications are narrowed down, the remaining nonprofits may present to your group in person or you might be invited on a site visit to see the program at work. The next step is to choose which nonprofit projects will receive your funds.

But the magic is in that deliberation among members. As you discuss the merits of nonprofit and try to sway other members to vote a certain way, you start to understand the challenges of giving money away. On the one hand, you realize that it’s hard to choose among so many worthwhile projects. On the other hand, you may have a favorite and will have to convince other members to vote your way.

In the end, you’ll have a much more fulfilling experience being part of a giving circle, and here are three reasons why:

1. Have a bigger impact

While your $500 is still going to be $500, you’ll feel like you’re giving more when your money is pooled with other giving circle members.

Because each member gives the same amount, each member gets one vote in which organizations receive the grants. So even though you gave $500, you can be part of giving away much more.

2. Give alongside like-minded people

The first interest you’ll share is in philanthropy, but many giving circles focus on a single area of need like women’s issues, education or a certain geographic area.

Because you as a group will solicit, accept, review and choose a request for funds from a nonprofit in your field of interest, the discussions you’ll have as a group can help you learn more about the topic and how your funding can have the most impact.

3. Learn more about our community 

Once you’ve been a part of giving away tens of thousands of dollars are more, you’ll have a much deeper understanding of philanthropy as well as the organizations and people that are working to make our community better.

Here are some of Austin’s most prominent giving circles and how you can be a part of them.

Impact Austin – $1,250 a year
Today, Impact Austin, the largest and oldest giving circle in Austin, is 450 members strong. Members must be female and donate $1,250 a year, with $1,000 going to provide grants and $250 going back into Impact Austin to support our daily operations and membership development. Its grants focus on five areas: culture, education, environment, family and health. Members can be as involved as they like or they can just give the money. In 2018, Impact Austin awarded $446,000 to four nonprofits.

Girls Giving Grants – $100 a year
The junior version of Impact Austin is open to young women in high school with each member contributing $100 each.  In 2018 G3 awarded $8,200 to Foster Angels of Central Texas.

Women’s Fund – $600 to $10,000 a year
Women’s Fund offers five levels of membership, each including invitations to educational programs, recognition as a members, and participation in the annual vote on grant recipients, but the higher levels offer more influence on the strategy and direction of the organization. In 2018, Women’s Fund awarded $200,000 to four grantees in the areas of housing, child care, education, and unintended pregnancy prevention.

Seeds of Strength – $1,000 a year

This Georgetown-area giving circle has become a philanthropic powerhouse in Williamson County. In 2018, it awarded $173,000 to eight grantees, and it focuses on arts and culture; community development; children, youth, and families; education; the environment; and health and human services.

FuturoFund – $500 a year
This giving circle is on pause in 2018, but look for it to come back soon. The original giving circle created to have a collective impact on the Central Texas Latino community, FuturoFund has also become a convener of Austin’s most prominent Latino leaders. Founded by John-Michael Cortez, Mayor Adler’s chief-of-staff, and his wife Priscilla Cortez, executive director of Volunteer Legal Services of Texas, this power-couple gathered a few dozen of their closest allies to address the issues that Austin Latinos are facing. The giving circle continues to grow, and has so far targeted its $200,000 to programs that advance Latinos. One member, one vote and 100 percent of funds go to grants.

Tikkun Austin Giving Circle – $180 to $360 a year
Tikkun invited members of Austin’s Jewish community to join this giving circle, focused on alleviating poverty. Its grants are distributed among three areas: education, health and housing. Tikkun is part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin.

Round Rock Giving Circles – $250 to a $1,100 a year
The Round Rock Community Foundation boasts four giving circles that each offer anyone to have an impact on projects in Round Rock and Williamson County. Leading Ladies invites area women to give $1,100 a year. The Future Fund members give $600 a year and are civic-minded couples with school-aged children, and tends to give to child-focused charities. The Good Neighbor fund requires $250 a year and consists of people living in Greater Round Rock West. ChangeMakers is for high school students and meets regularly during the school year to decide which local nonprofit will receive the $10,000 donated by Well Fargo.

You might also consider joining a giving circle hosted by a nonprofit, which means your donation goes directly to that organization. While this takes some of the fun out of a giving circle, most of them do offer social and educational opportunities, plus lots of recognition and rewards. See United Way for Greater Austin, People’s Community Clinic, Seton and others.

PHOTO: Impact Austin’s 2018 grant ceremony where almost half a million dollars was donated to the community.

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