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Giving Circles Offer Point of Entry for Many Donors, Study Finds

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American donors who may not feel sufficiently empowered — or even feel marginalized — by more traditional forms of organized philanthropy are turning to giving circles to express their charitable inclinations, according to a recent report published by Jumpstart, a nonprofit philanthropic research and design lab.

Giving circles, through which participants pool their charitable contributions and decide together where to allocate them, can both strengthen communal identity and expand philanthropic reach, the report found.

Data show that giving collectives are especially appealing to minority groups, women and younger donors.

The report was based on quantitative findings about participants in giving circles from the National Study of American Religious Giving and the National Study of American Jewish Giving.

It also incorporated findings from a qualitative, comparative study of adult giving collectives associated with several ethnic and affinity groups, including Africa- American, Asian-American/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Jewish, LGBT, women’s and millennial generation giving circles.

One of the report’s more striking findings was the age of giving circle participants: nearly half were under 40 years old.

Researchers said that unlike other aspects of philanthropy, giving circle participation was much more strongly related to age than to income. Indeed, two-thirds of non-white participants were under 40.

Among the report’s other key findings were the following:

  • One in eight American donors had participated in a giving circle
  • African American (21%), Asian/Pacific Islander (16%) and Hispanic/Latino (15%) donors participated at higher rates than Jewish (14%) and white non-Jewish (10%) ones
  • 66% of white, non-Jewish female donors had participated in a giving circle, compared with 34% of their male counterparts
  • 53% of non-white men and 58% of Jewish men had participated, compared with 47% of non-white women and 42% of Jewish women
  • More than 80% each of non-white participants and white participants who were not Jewish belonged to a religious congregation, compared with 53% of Jewish participants who belonged to a synagogue

“Giving circles teach us how, when philanthropic institutions don’t roll out the red carpet, people create their own ways in,” Shawn Landres, chief executive and director of research at Jumpstart, said in a statement.

“Highly connected people become deeply committed givers, and it’s in giving circles that we see people creating philanthropic traditions that speak to their identity and community.”

Sarah Benor, a co-author of the report, saw a “virtuous circle” effect at work.

“Giving circles connect people to like-minded individuals and lead to more meaningful, intentional, and hands-on charitable giving, as well as increased communal engagement,” Benor said in the statement.

Check out Vanguard Charitable Reports on 10 Years of Giving Through Donor-Advised Funds on ThinkAdvisor.


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