Sunday, November 19, 2006

"Giving circles"

A new form of personal philanthropy which appears to be gaining steam in the U.S. is the "giving circle", in which groups of people gather once a month or so to pool small amounts into a single larger donation to a charity they've discussed and agreed on. So for example a dozen individuals or families each giving $20 might vote on a single charity each month that gets the whole $240.

All the examples being written about thus far in the media are groups of women, probably because that gives reporters and editors a chance to make smug analogies to sewing circles and book clubs, but there are all-male and mixed-gender examples too. Some of the amounts described are fairly impressive, like a Los Angeles giving circle that collects $5,000 per year per participant.

Some research has been done on this trend, see here and here. Though thus far it's not terribly rigorous, it does suggest that there are now thousands such groups and that most of them have been founded since the late 1990s. A couple of the big national foundations have financed those initial research and advocacy efforts.

Is this a good thing? Well...obviously the trend plugs into the concept of leverage: individuals who can each only afford $50/month can band together and feel like they're making a bigger impact. On balance people being recruited into giving circles seems likely to increase total charitable giving. And it certainly sounds like more fun to be philanthropic in that manner rather than just writing a check -- at least until serious disagreement arises, what's the over-under on that in months for a typical group? And I'm a big fan of donors behaving like investors, which the entire sector would be better for and which this concept would seem to encourage. So a tentative thumbs up from here, while acknowledging that we don't yet know much about the real-world long-term impacts of this concept.

No comments: