While we appreciate the spotlight on our research in a recent story in Third Sector, this blog offers a more complete view of the findings.
Our research into giving circles – which combine generosity with sociability – identified 80 such groups in the UK and Ireland. We tried to find out how they are structured, why they were set up, why people join and what benefits they gain and challenges they face. See a summary of the findings here.
To answer these questions we searched websites, news articles and documents, conducted 27 interviews with participants and staff of varying types of giving circles, and observed giving circles in action.
The most common type of giving circle we found are Mentored groups, which are focused on empowering and engaging young professionals in philanthropy. The next most common types (16 each) are Live Crowd Funding and Hosted groups. The former use events in a Dragons Den-style format where charities pitch projects to the members who then make public pledges in an auction-like session. The latter are run by host organisations (community foundations or charities), to support that host or to grow and promote giving for a specific area, such as women and children.
We identified ten Independent groups that resemble a common type of giving circle in the US. These typically involve small groups of people who pool and give resources to support charities and individuals with relatively small amounts, chosen by members in an informal way with minimal criteria and due diligence. In addition, we found a smaller number of what we call Broker and Hybrid groups.
While giving circles have many goals, most commonly they are about developing philanthropy to make giving more meaningful and personal, to normalise giving, and to make donations more effective. Many also aim to cultivate new donors and increase or expand giving.
Members join for several reasons. By far, the most commonly cited was to connect with like-minded people, have purposeful discussions about causes or shared life issues (such as being wealthy), and doing things together.
There are a number of benefits for members including empowerment; meeting new people; building closer connections with beneficiaries, colleagues or friends; more engaged and focused giving; enhancing generosity; and providing a sense of satisfaction and happiness. As one member told us:
“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 so life-enriching. And a real privilege to be involved.”
Charitable beneficiaries and hosts also gain benefits, including attracting new funding and volunteers, exposure to new networks of prospective donors, and raising their profile. In some cases we also found challenges, such as tension between the host and group and keeping things informal.
We would love to hear about giving circles we may not yet have come across, so please do get in touch.