Giving Circles: Putting the 'Fun' Back in 'Fundraising'

February 5, 2013

By Diane Manuel

Los Angeles is all about choice. If you want to meet a group of folks who like to knit, there are Sip ‘n Stitch groups, if books are your bag; there are countless book clubs and groups. But what about folks who want to do good and have a good time doing it? The advent of the Giving Circle means that these folks have an outlet for their parallel loves: community and philanthropy.

My giving circle, Angelenos for LA, began as a small group of professionals who had a bit of money that they wanted to invest back into the communities around them.  I had one colleague say to me, “I have a bit of mad money here; I can buy a really nice purse or I can do some good!” She and 19 more of our friends decided on the latter. Our buy- in for voting privileges was relatively modest: $900; $100-$899 gets you supporter status.  With a pot of money and several get-togethers on the calendar, we were ready for our next step: deciding on how to best spend this money while making an effort to collect more.

We approached the Liberty Hill Foundation as our funding partners. Their social agenda most closely matched our collective vision: to have a direct human impact in the areas of advocacy, health and education. Liberty Hill was able to provide us with just enough information to help us make intelligent decisions about potential nonprofits to support. We also turned to Guidestar and the good old library for additional information. After some good food, great wine and lively conversations spread over a few months of research and meetings, we crafted a list of 45 potential grantees, whittled it down to 20 and then finally held a vote to select the ‘winning’ cause from our final list of 6.

What was interesting throughout this process was that our membership was less interested in the sustainability or size of the potential grantees. To us it was all about ‘How many people can we help NOW’. People brought organizations to the table that were personally relevant to them and substantiated their choices with some current data, but the thrust of their nominations was always personal and emotional.

So I ask you:  How can we take the burgeoning energy of the giving circle and connect it to the power of the ‘philanthropic players’ to achieve some synergy where everyone comes away with that ‘I’ve done something good today’ feeling? Because with so much need around us, the last thing any of us really needs is another handbag!

Diane Manuel is a Financial Advisor with Merrill Lynch

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