The combination of pooled resources, community involvement, and shared decision-making can be a powerful agent for positive change.
When I was a little girl in Athens, West Virginia, my mother was part of a weekly tradition on our street known as the Coffee Klatch. The Coffee Klatch was a group of four to six women who met over coffee, cake, and (for some) cigarettes one morning a week. “I’m going for coffee at Violet’s (or Margaret’s or Irene’s),” my mother would say. “I’ll be back by 10:30. Don’t leave the house or yard.” (Don’t look so shocked. This was early 1970’s small-town America; I was perfectly safe and knew exactly where she was.)
During that same period, my mother was active in a local Women’s Club that did service projects in town, and my father was treasurer of the Lion’s Club. They made a point of joining groups where they could enjoy the camaraderie and make a difference in their community. It’s no surprise that as my sister and I became adolescents and adults, we did the same.
Just like then, there is something still enriching, powerful even, about a group of people with something in common coming together for a purpose. Increasingly, these groups are forming around a purpose of societal change. They are known as giving circles.
A giving circle is a form of philanthropic activity in which people with shared values collectively donate money to support organizations or projects of mutual interest. Sometimes members volunteer their time, energy, and expertise to these projects, too. According to Philanthropy Together, a global initiative created by giving circle leaders to scale and strengthen the movement, there are currently more than 2,500 circles around the world (more than 2,000 of them in the U.S.) with more than 150,000 people joining over the last 20 years.
Many giving circles are identity-based – women, faith, Black, LatinX, LGBTQ+, for instance. A growing number, whether identity-based or not, seek diversity in their membership to bring varying perspectives to their discussions of priorities and organizations to fund. Typically, members of a giving circle each make a minimum (or the same) donation of money and pool those funds, deciding together where their combined gifts will go. Each circle sets its own parameters for making decisions and for its grants – how many and to what types of organizations or projects, for instance.
The combination of pooled resources, community involvement, and shared decision-making can be a powerful agent for positive change. And coming together with old and new friends to do good in the world, well, that sounds like just plain fun.
If you are interested in joining a giving circle or starting a new one, there are a number of terrific resources available on the Philanthropy Together website. Check it out. Maybe there’s a philanthropic coffee klatch in your future.