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
Impact Austin claims to be one of the largest women’s philanthropy groups in the nation, and with about 500 members, that might be true. 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 2016, Impact Austin awarded more than $445,000 to five nonprofits.
Girls Giving Grants – $100 a year
The junior version of Impact Austin is open to young women in high school, each of whom give $100 to be a member. In addition to the donation, each member will also participate in learning about and evaluating nonprofit applicants, and as with other giving circles, every members gets one vote to decide which nonprofits will receive the grant. In 2018, G3 collected and donated $8,200 for Foster Angles of Central Texas.
Women’s Fund – $600 to $10,000 a year
Not as simple a structure as the other women’s giving circle, Impact Austin, but also maybe more open. Women’s Fund is a program of the Austin Community Foundation. The $600 is the lowest point of entry, and it offers invitations to educational programs and the opportunity to participate in the annual vote. The other levels – $1,200, $2,400, $5,000 and $10,000 – each offer increasing levels of influence and recognition. Women’s Fund grants are primarily focused in those programs that address housing, education, child care, and unintended pregnancy prevention or more specifically, access to long-acting reversible contraception.
A Georgetown-based giving circle that puts a spin on the one member, one vote structure, Seeds of Strength creates multiple entry points in order to allow women of a wide range of incomes to participate. Contribute between $300 and $539 a year, you’re allowed one vote; $550 to $1049 gives you two votes, and $1,050 or more gets you four votes. Annual membership closes in March. The structure seems to be working, as Seeds of Strength has grown exponentially over the years. Grants are focused in four areas of interest: health, family, education and financial security, and arts and culture. Since 2010, Seeds of Strength has awarded 74 grants totaling $1,146,000.
FuturoFund – $500 a year
We hear this one is re-launching soon! Stay tuned! 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 $200,00+ to programs that advance Latinos. One member, one vote and 100 percent of funds go to grants. As straightforward as you can get.
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.