Giving with Impact:
Transcript of the podcast:
MICHAEL GORDON VOSS:
Welcome to season three of Giving with Impact, an original podcast series from Stanford Social Innovation Review, developed with the support of Schwab Charitable. I'm your host, Michael Gordon Voss, publisher of SSIR.
In this series, we strive to create a collaborative space for leading voices from across the philanthropic ecosystem to engage in both practical and aspirational conversations around relevant topics at the heart of achieving more effective philanthropy.
Modern philanthropy provides us with a wealth of opportunities and approaches to help create the change that we want to see in the world. One such approach that continues to grow in popularity is the idea of collective giving, which often translates to giving circles. It's estimated that there are currently over 2000 giving circles in the US, with over 150,000 people involved in these circles, helping to donate nearly $1.3 billion. Giving circles can provide donors with a way to increase both their knowledge and understanding of issues and solutions, and their impact on those issues, while helping them to connect with other like-minded donors in their community.
So is a collective giving approach, like a giving circle, right for you? And how do you go about getting started as a donor, or connecting to one as a nonprofit? To help us with these questions, we're very fortunate to be joined today by two experts with extensive personal and professional experience in this space.
Sara Lomelin is the CEO of Philanthropy Together, a global initiative co-created by hundreds of giving circle leaders, to diversify and democratize philanthropy through the power of giving circles. Previously, Sara served as Senior Director of Leadership Philanthropy at Accion Opportunity Fund, and as VP of Philanthropy at the Latino Community Foundation, where she created the Latino Giving Circle Network, the largest network of Latinx philanthropists in the US. Sara serves on the National Council of the Women's Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and the board of Battery Powered. Sara holds a BA from Universidad Ibero-Americana in Mexico City, and an Administration and Management Certificate from Harvard University. Born and raised in Mexico City, Sara lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Joining us once again is Mary Jovanovich, Senior Manager for Relationship Management at Schwab Charitable. Mary joined Schwab Charitable in 2016, and has more than 15 years experience with Charles Schwab & Co. Mary is involved as an emeritus board member with Dress for Success Indianapolis, and also serves on both the boards of the Integrating Women Leadership Foundation and the Breathe Foundation. Mary has her master's degree in management from Indiana Wesleyan, and holds the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy designation and a graduate certificate in philanthropic studies from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.
Sara, Mary, thank you both for joining me today, as we discuss collective giving. Let's get started.
Sara, let me ask you to kick us off by explaining what's meant by collective giving, and people-centered philanthropy, and how that relates to the work of Philanthropy Together.
Thank you, Michael, and thank you so much for having me.
Well, collective giving is people-powered philanthropy. It is groups of individuals coming together to support the community, a cause, or another individual. There are many forms of collective giving—crowdfunding, mutual aid, giving days like Giving Tuesday, issue funds, fundraising societies, and giving circles. Giving circles are a unique collective giving model, where individuals gather, they discuss their values, and issues in the community, then pool their dollars and collectively decide where to give the funds.
But it doesn't stop there. Giving circles engage beyond the dollars by giving their time, their talent, their testimony, and ties to the organizations and causes that they support.
Philanthropy Together's mission, as you mentioned, is to democratize and diversify philanthropy through the power of giving circles. Why? Because, for us, community knows what community needs. Members of giving circles, typically, have deep ties to the community they're serving, and understand the needs, and can move money faster than traditional philanthropy.
I love the way you phrased that, "community knows what community needs." It reminds me of the phrase, "the most effected are the most effective." I think we've come to learn that over the years in philanthropy.
And the idea of collective giving isn't something new or uniquely American. Sara, can you share a bit about the history of this kind of approach?
Definitely. Collective giving is not new and it's not exclusively American. This form of philanthropy, you know, showing love of humanity has existed for generations by different names. For example, the Sousou has origins throughout Africa and its diaspora, including the Caribbean and Latin America, where collective giving looks like investment clubs or saving pools for families. I come from Mexico, and, you know, we have the Tandas there for many, many years.
Much like the mutual aid societies, which began in Black communities in the 1700s, giving circles, as they are known now in the US are fairly new, with the movement beginning in the '80s. There was a landscape research done by the Collective Giving Research group in 2016 that found about 1,600 giving circles operating in the US, and, as you mentioned, with having given almost 1.3 billion in the past two decades. The research also showed tremendous growth over these past two decades, where more diverse giving circles started in the past five years. Also, the study found that more diverse voices are coming into philanthropy. And, today, there are more than 2,000 giving circles around the world.
So, Sara, you mentioned more diverse voices. Can you give us a sense of the donor who's getting involved with the collective giving approach? Are donors who are involved in giving circles different from those who may be involved in other philanthropic approaches? And has that profile of donors in giving circles evolved in recent years?
Yes, you know, I feel that across philanthropy major donors are becoming more diverse all the time. At the start of the pandemic, we saw more youth and communities of color pooling not only dollars, but also time. We also know that women are more likely to give collectively than men, as we saw in the Women's Philanthropy Institute recent research on crowdfunding, and in the 2016 Landscape Study on giving circles. From that study, we saw that 60% of giving circles are identity based and 70% are led by women, and primarily formed by women. The growth from the '80s was largely led by women's giving circles.
However, in the past five years, what we're seeing is more giving by and for communities. For example, my giving circle, the Peninsula Latina Giving Circle, is part of the Latino Giving Circle Network, a network of 23 giving circles, mainly Latino here in California.
I have another example, which is the I Be Black Girl in Omaha, Nebraska that began in 2018 to support Omaha area Black women and femmes.
And, now, we're seeing, and this is very exciting, more men getting involved. We have at Philanthropy Together, an incubator for giving circles called Launchpad For You. And this program trains community leaders to start giving circles. Since the program launched in June of 2020, we have trained more than 250 leaders. And we have seen about 79% of women, 54% people of color, but, you know, more youth, more men getting involved.
A really fun, example and a great example on how we don't see any geographic borders anymore for this kind of work are Michael and Felix from Wider Sense in Germany. They joined Launchpad last year, and they were so excited about being part of this movement they have engaged really deeply. And they just had their first Launchpad in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, training 40 new leaders to start an ecosystem of giving circles in Germany.
Thanks for all of that.
Mary, I think this is a great opportunity to invite you into the conversation because you're personally involved in two giving circles. Can you share with our listeners what attracted you to this approach, and how you got involved?
Absolutely. I joined my first giving circle in 2018, after learning Indiana's rate of teenagers who considered suicide in the last year was the worst in the nation. The rate of Hoosier teenagers attempting suicide was second in the nation. Nearly one in five Hoosier high school students, 19%, seriously considered attempting suicide in the last 12 months, and 11% of Indiana's teens have attempted suicide. I realized I needed to do something and fast. That's why I joined my first giving circle, the Sage Society of the Women's Fund of Central Indiana Community Foundation.
The Sage Society represents donors who contribute an annual gift of $500 or more to the Women's Fund of CICF. Donors receive invitations to attend quarterly site visits to the Women's Fund's grantees organizations, panels and books discussions, and community conversations. My favorite part was pre-COVID when I could meet other Sage Society members for lunch and I got to know other like-minded people.
That experience offered me so much joy that I also joined Impact 100 joining other Indianapolis women making $100,000 grants at a time. We seek to fund critical needs, new ventures, and innovative ways to solve problems, and to create a more civil and respective climate in our community. Impact Indiana members will each cast one vote to determine the nonprofit grant recipients for that year.
So, Mary, thank you for sharing that. When I listen to what you're saying, I'm hearing, not only is the issue area something that attracted you to the idea of giving circles, but also this sense of community and learning from one another. Sara, would you say, based on the research and data that you've seen, that Mary's reasons are similar to those of other donors who choose to engage in collective giving?
Totally, Michael. I feel this sense of community, of, being together, learning from one another. That is what, differentiates giving circles to, for example, crowd funding, right? We're meeting, we're learning, we're sharing ideas, and we talk about their values, right? People get involved in collective giving for a number of reasons. They want to support a particular cause, like Mary, they may see gaps in funding, particularly in underserved communities, and they may want to collaborate with like-minded givers. Ultimately, what we're seeing in philanthropy is many more voices, and more diverse voices. So for me, this is a win for philanthropy because as a field, we are stronger because we can look past our differences, and viewpoints, and ideas, and come together about a shared desire to make social change happen.
With giving circles, in particular, members are also civically engaged individuals. Giving circles, as I mentioned, not only give their time and dollars, but they're involved in neighborhood association, and the PTA, engaging local politics etc. And collective givers tend to give to BIPOC-led and grassroots initiatives. Some of these groups become seed funders to small community initiatives that are not experiencing a trickle down from the larger corporate giving or larger community foundations.
Yeah. So, Sara, as I'm listening to what you're sharing, I'm also wondering, and I'd love to throw this open to both of you, what you think the impact of collective giving has been and continues to be on the philanthropic sector, and, in particular, on nonprofits.
So Mary let's start with you.
Participation in giving circles creates an opportunity for civic engagement, and the ability to make a bigger impact, and make the community a better place. Giving circles create a space for people to share ideas and to learn more about the causes they are most passionate about. Giving circles also help the nonprofits be more efficient with their time when it relates to fundraising, as they have the opportunity to engage with the group of donors all at once, rather than individual donors, which lightens the burden on the nonprofit fundraisers.
Yes, and if I can add to that, giving circles, as I mentioned, are seed funders for small, local, grassroots nonprofits that are too small to get grants from corporations and other larger funders, right? A lot of times those local nonprofits are totally invisible to big philanthropy. And then by having these funds from giving circles, they can leverage the support they receive from them, and over a few years, go and engage with larger funders, right, saying, "This giving circle has been funding us for many years."
Another part that I love about giving circles, is that I have seen this come full circle, where, for example, on my years with the Latino Giving Circle Network and the Latino Community Foundation, many nonprofit leaders, the day after they were receiving the grant from the giving circle, they will pick up the phone and call me and say, "Sara I want to be part of the giving circle as a donor." So, imagine how rich the conversation is, to have those voices of the community as part of the decision-making process and educating the members of the giving circle.
Another point I want to make is that we keep reading about how people are giving less, but I feel that, Michael and Mary, you can agree with me that perhaps it's because we need to revisit the way we're tracking individual giving, because especially in the past year, we have seen a lot of young people, a lot of communities coming together, not giving specifically to a 5O1(C)(3) but giving directly to individuals engaging in mutual aid societies, and really, feeling and looking into themselves of what is mine to give and engaging in community.
And I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Sara, I know that you helped contribute to my Stanford colleague, Lucy Bernholz's work, "How We Give Now," which talks about exactly that point.
One of the things that has come up as we've been talking about this in the podcast, and even as we were preparing for it, is how collective giving can have an impact in addressing issues of equity in the philanthropic sector. So, Sara, can you talk about that from your perspective?
Yes, what we have seen during the pandemic, I feel that last year was a wake-up call for the world, not only with the pandemic, but, with the racial equity reckoning that we have here in the US. People really realize that it's in our best interest to be there for one another and to be in community.
Right now, 90% of the Launchpad giving circles that are getting started are concentrated on racial equity work and social justice work. We saw a lot of mutual aid societies grow during last year. New giving circles that are being formed and funding priorities completely shifted from established giving circles. For example, in my giving circle, we used to have a yearly grant night, and right at the pandemic, we picked up the phone, we called the grantees and we said, "What do you need?" And we mobilized in a couple of weeks to support our community partners.
Another thing that we have seen since last year, is this sense of we're all in this together and there are no geographic boundaries. It's very heartwarming to see giving circles started at the national level or regional level, just united with a cause.
One example of giving circles that started during the pandemic, is the Black Trans Life Thrive, with most of their members being in New York City, and their first few rounds of grants were given to New York City-based nonprofits, run by and for Black Trans Leaders. And since then, they have expanded to begin supporting nonprofits in places like Louisiana and Alabama.
So, when Sara talks about collective giving circles at a national level, Mary, I'm also wondering about what a collective giving approach looks like from a corporate perspective? How has that helped as an engine for change?
At Charles Schwab, you know, we definitely want to help employees make a positive impact in their community by supporting the causes they care most about through the Employee Matching Gifts Program. The Charles Schwab Foundation will match employees' charitable contributions up to $1,000, and if you serve on a board, $2,000. Employees can request a match for donations of $25 or more made directly to an eligible nonprofit. But here at Schwab Charitable, we make it even easier because employees can fund their donor-advised fund account for the $1,000 and request the full match for $1,000, and we will waive the minimum annual fee for employees when they establish a donor-advised fund. And the best part, the money can be invested and grow tax free, which can result in even more money going to charity.
Yeah, and I think, this sort of corporate giving approach is certainly not limited to Charles Schwab. Sara, you shared a great story… I know you probably can't go into too many details, but about a corporate popup giving circle. Can you share a little bit of that with our audience?
Of course. A popup giving circle is a giving circle express. So, you go on all the steps of a giving circles. You create community, you talk about your values, you learn about the cause, you evaluate a couple of nonprofits, and you pool your donations and give, all in 90 minutes. And we have been working with some tech companies and different corporations to do that with their employee resource groups, or ERGs, as a way to inspire more giving, personal giving from the team members, but, also, you know, the company, as Mary mentioned, matches those funds, right?
So, in the past year, we have had several popup giving circles, and, you know, the results are amazing. In 90 minutes, we recently had a popup giving circle that raised almost $50,000. And all these funds go, again, to very small grassroots, nonprofits. And they come as a surprise because we do this as secret philanthropists. So, literally, we call them a day after the popup and we let them know that there's this big gift for them.
That's remarkable. Mary, when you mentioned what Schwab employees could do with their DAF, I'm sure that, people listening who might have their own DAF want to understand how they might be able to leverage their existing giving vehicles, like their DAF, to fund or support collective giving. How would they do that?
It's so easy to use your DAF to support a giving circle. I use my DAF to support the Sage Society and Impact 100. In the case of the Sage Society, the grant is issued in the name of the community foundation, CICF, and then I designate the funds to be directed to the Women's Fund Sage Society. Impact 100 Greater Indianapolis, that's an IRS recognized 501(c)(3) charitable organization, so the grant is made in their name.
It's also important to note that you cannot receive any benefits that would exceed anything incidental, like a pen, however, you can waive those rights and those benefits and still use your donor-advised fund. Your DAF sponsor will be able to help you guide you through the process.
Thanks so much for sharing that, Mary. Sara, as we start wrapping up today's discussion, what do you see as trends for the future of collective giving? And what does that mean for the approach and for philanthropy?
Well, collective giving will continue to diversify philanthropy and bring in the voices of everyday givers. At Philanthropy Together, we really believe that everyone can and should be a philanthropist, and we see more people of all identities, all ages, all abilities, reclaiming, and being proud to be a philanthropist. We see the focus on racial equity and social justice continuing.
Philanthropy Together recently relaunched our Racial Equity Community of Practice in October. We have seen dozens of giving circles recommit to embed equitable grant-making and cultural practices into their work, really, again, rethinking and thinking that we don't want to replicate practices that are not equitable.
We see impact multiplying with the creation of new networks. For example, The State's Project, formerly Future Now Fund that was born out of the 2016 election, is now forming giving circles to support state legislators. The Jewish Federation Network of America is also starting a network of Jewish LGBTQ giving circles. And as a field, collective giving will continue to operate without geographic boundaries with more connections being made virtually. And, you know, the world is our oyster. We see this appetite all over the world.
That's terrific. And I would say a good place to stop, but at the same time, I really hate stopping this conversation because I'm enjoying it so much. But, unfortunately, we are out of time.
So, Mary, Sara, I'd like to thank you both for joining me today and bringing us into the world of giving circles. It's impressive to see the benefits that this approach can provide, not only to donors, but to communities in particular. So thank you both.
And thank you for listening. We hope you've enjoyed this episode. Please consider leaving us a review on Apple podcast or your favorite listening app, as it helps others discover the show. We encourage you to listen to other episodes in this series, as well as other podcasts from SSIR. This podcast series is made possible with the support of Schwab Charitable, who played an important role in the selection of topics and speakers. For important disclosures and a transcript of this episode, visit schwabcharitable.org/impactpodcast.
Giving with Impact: Season 3 Episode 6
Better Together: Collective Giving and "People-Centered" Philanthropy
Modern philanthropy provides us with a wealth of opportunities and approaches to help create the change that we want to see in the world. One such approach that continues to grow in popularity is the idea of "collective giving," which often translates to giving circles. It’s estimated that there are currently over 2,000 giving circles in the US, with over 150,000 people involved in these circles, helping to donate nearly $1.3 billion dollars. Giving circles can provide donors with a way to increase both their knowledge and understanding of issues and solutions and their impact on those issues, while helping them to connect with other like-minded donors and their community. So, is a collective giving approach like a giving circle right for you? And how do you go about getting started as a donor, or connecting to one as a nonprofit?
Moderator: Michael Gordon Voss, publisher of Stanford Social Innovation Review
- Sara Lomelin, Chief Executive Officer, Philanthropy Together
- Mary Jovanovich, Senior Manager for Relationship Management, Schwab Charitable
- Learn more about how a Schwab Charitable donor-advised fund account can be a simple, tax-smart investment solution for charitable giving.
- Download the Schwab Charitable Giving Guide to discover information, resources, and activities to help you maximize your philanthropy.
- Visit Philanthropy Together to learn more about collective giving and “people-centered” philanthropy.
If you enjoy the show, please leave us a rating or review on Apple Podcasts.