All together now
With nearly 165,000 registered charities in the UK, choosing which to support can be overwhelming. But a new movement, ‘giving circles’, is revolutionising the way we make charitable donations.
What are 'giving circles'?
Giving circles are groups of people who pool their funds and together decide which charities to support. With members operating at various levels of wealth and experience, many circles also contribute their time and skills.
In a 2014 report, ‘Giving Circles in the UK and Ireland’ by Angela Eikenberry and Beth Breeze, 80 different giving circles were identified: they had collectively raised over £25 million. The circles come in a variety of forms, from groups of friends around a kitchen table to more formal structures, such as The Funding Network. The latter, founded in 2002, has brought together 6,000 people and raised £7 million for 1,000 charities around the world.
Collective giving is not only fun; one of its primary advantages is scale. A circle can make giving more effective by leveraging a collection of smaller donations into a larger one, thereby achieving tangible results for a social cause.
What are the benefits?
Many giving circles bring together novice givers and experienced philanthropists. On a professional and social level, it’s an opportunity for meeting like-minded people and networking. According to one participant cited in Eikenberry and Breeze’s study, ‘You meet the most incredible people, and that’s part of the reason why I say I’ve got so much more back than I have ever given. It’s life-enriching, and a privilege to be involved.’
And as Anne Robbins, who has been a member of The Network for Social Change for ten years, puts it: ‘It's made me much more confident about looking for great organisations and assessing projects. And it's fun to share this with other like-minded people, so there's a strong social element as well.’
Giving circles also provide an opportunity to learn about the world. Adrian Coles, former Director-General of the Building Societies Association and a member of The Funding Network, explains: ‘I’ve had the chance to learn about and support a wide range of small charities, from teaching girls to read in Cameroon and improving horticulture in Afghanistan, to helping young unemployed people in London obtain retailing jobs and overcoming wrongful convictions in UK courts.’
Giving circles often work with smaller charities, such as Beyond Food Foundation,which helps the homeless gain meaningful employment
What do they support?
Giving circles tend to fund small and young charities or community projects, rather than large, mainstream ones. Tackle Africa, a charity delivering HIV education to young men through football, was able to train 20 new coaches after receiving a donation from The Funding Network. It has now reached over 18,000 young people through football training.
Many people are discouraged from giving because they don’t have time to find and select charitable projects. The beauty of giving circles is that this is done for you, and the responsibility can be shared among the group.
What model is best for you?
According to the ‘Giving Circles’ study, the majority of giving circles in the UK tend to be formally structured and fit into three common models: events-based, hosted circles and mentored groups. They all provide a supported, safe and rewarding space for collective giving.
Events-based groups host Dragon’s Den-style crowd-funding evenings. Perhaps the best example is The Funding Network, attended by between 40 and 80 members, where six charities pitch for funds. Members then choose whether to pledge a donation, and on average each charity raises between £5,000 and £10,000 per event.
Hosted circles are run by a host charity and enable a small group of donors to fund a specific cause and project. For example, Dasra, a charity empowering social change in India, has nine giving circles, with each addressing a specific cause such as education, poverty and domestic violence.
Mentored groups aim to engage new donors in philanthropy. They support small groups of between five and 20 people, including an experienced philanthropist, younger professionals and/or less experienced givers. Together they select, fund and monitor a charitable project. The Bread Tin and BeyondMe are two organisations that use this model.
Dasra is a charity empowering social change in India, addressing everything from poverty to education
Where can you find more information?
Giving circles welcome new participants, and there is nothing to stop you forming your own informal circle among friends or colleagues.
To explore further, start with thefundingnetwork.org.uk,thenetworkforsocialchange.org.uk and dasra.org. For young professionals, look at thebreadtin.org and beyondme.org
If you’d like to create your own giving circle, you can find more information at givingforum.org
A show of hands at The Funding Network
Marina Sevier is a consultant and adviser on philanthropic and charitable work. She is passionate about effective philanthropy and results-driven charity, and has experience of running an operational charity and working for a grant-making foundation. Marina is a trustee of Coalition for Efficiency, a registered charity helping other charities to be more efficient and effective.