Leveraging The Growing Influence & Inclusion Of Giving Circles


By: Joe Patti

In: Community Engagement, Development

I wrote about Giving Circles on my personal blog last June, noting that the number of Giving Circles in the U.S. is growing. The appeal of this form of philanthropy is that it that the structure, criteria, participation, mission, etc are adaptable to the needs of your particular group.

Inside Philanthropy has noted that the composition of Giving Circles are also more diverse than institutional funding organizations.

As giving circles grow, they engage more people often left out of institutional philanthropy—especially women and people of color. Of the giving circles surveyed, 60 percent were identity-based groups. Women made up more than half the group for 70 percent of the circles. In contrast, men were represented in 66 percent of the groups, but only dominant in 7.5 percent of groups.

Giving circles are still mostly white. White members made up the majority of nearly 85 percent of the groups surveyed. However, about 40 percent reported at least one African American or Latino member and 30 percent reported at least one Asian or Pacific Islander member. Racial and ethnic minorities made up the majority of members in 11.5 percent of groups.


It’s not only women and people of color who are attracted to giving circles. According to the study, they also showed promise in engaging donors outside of the top income brackets. A decrease in the average donation, even as the total amount donated by giving circles grows, suggests the collective giving arrangements are becoming increasingly inclusive of more income levels.

While the most organization’s first instinct might be to investigate if there are any Giving Circles in their area as an additional funding source, perhaps a more significant benefit might be as a source of help in diversifying board membership.

If there is a group of people invested in supporting causes in minority communities in which they are members, they can potentially suggest members of those communities who might be interested in serving on your board. Certainly they could offer advice about how to do a better job communicating with the people they serve and making them feel welcome.

So even if the Giving Circle is focused on supporting health and human service causes and not performing and visual arts, there is still something to be gained by cultivating a relationship with them.

Joe Patti
Joe Patti
In addition to writing for ArtHacker, I have been writing the blog, Butts in the Seats (buttsseats.com) since 2004. I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (https://www.creatingconnection.org/about/) I am currently the Theater Manager for the Rialto Theater in Loveland, CO. Across my career I have worked as the Executive Director at The Grand Opera House in Macon, GA, at University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College, University of Central Florida, Asolo Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and numerous other places both defunct and funky.
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