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The Growing Popularity of Giving Circles

June 21, 2010

(c/o Albuquerque Foundation)

In another post on giving circles, the Daily Tell reported last week that this mode of philanthropy is on the rise. We at SAPP applaud any type of community-based giving, which allows “regular” folks to participate in philanthropic efforts.

Mr. Butler’s definition of “groups of philanthropic individuals coming together weekday evenings to eat dinner, write checks and support their communities” only hints at the complexity of this philanthropic force.  Of course, small groups of individuals can promote their interests through combined giving. However, as Aparna Sharma of AGC pointed out in my interview with her last week, giving circles can be a power vehicle for promoting and complementing interests that are not commonly served by mainstream philanthropy. In addition, they can extend the impact and meaning of giving for individuals and organizations.  Also, like AGC, they can give away a significant amount of money each year and impact organizations through technical assistance, increased recognition, and access to a network of like-minded agencies.   Clearly, as Mr. Butler indicates, giving circles are growing in popularity. Asian Americans in Philanthropy (AAPIP) itself supports at least eight circles throughout the country.

Perhaps Giving Circles do extend the reach of philanthropy. However, there may be negative consequences to this type of giving. For example, it can encourage even more isolation from traditional philanthropy for organizations that are already on the fringe. In the worst cases, they can be a vehicle for fraudulent behavior or giving to unethical agencies/ causes. When endorsed by social and religious groups, they may result in subtle coercion or exclusion of non-member organizations.   Aparna hinted at this when she recommended that all philanthropic vehicles would benefit from “due diligence” in their giving.

What do you think of giving circles? Are they a good idea? Is it better to work in mainstream philanthropy to make a change?

– Asma Ali

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