Giving Circles

Remember investment clubs? During the 1990’s people across the country began forming groups where the members would pool their resources and invest in the stock market. The investment clubs were a way for people to learn more about investing in a fun and social way. They became hugely popular and today you can buy books like Investment Clubs for Dummies, Starting and Running a Profitable Investment Club, and Investment Club Operations Handbook.

I think that many of the demographic trends that drove the democratization of stock market investing are driving similar changes in philanthropy. The most closely linked trend to investment clubs is the rise of giving circles. Giving circles are small groups of people who pool their resources and meet to decide what nonprofits to give to and learn more about philanthropy. I think we are on the verge of a massive boom in giving circles. While you don’t need any kind of formal giving vehicle to start a giving circle, using a donor advised fund certainly makes the administration easier. Each member would then be able to record the gift to the giving circle as a charitable gift for tax purposes rather than needing to track their pro rata share of the gifts make to charity. With the minimum to open a donor advised fund having fallen as low as $5,000, this option is now open to many more potential giving circles.

It is surprising to me that there are no “how to start and run a giving circle” type books in print. I’m sure we’ll be seeing them soon. In the meantime, Angela Eikenberry, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech has published her dissertation titled “Giving Circles and the Democratization of Philanthropy”. The full book is available on Amazon and you can download the 23-page summary here:

Angela includes the following list in her report:

Reasons for Participating in Giving Circles*

  • Become more involved in their personal giving; especially want to be more engaged with nonprofit organizations
  • Have fun; able to be social with a purpose
  • Be part of a larger group and leverage individual contributions
  • Give back to the community and make more of an impact
  • It is an anonymous, safe place to learn about nonprofit organizations and philanthropy
  • It is easy, simple and non-bureaucratic; an alterative to the time commitment of traditional volunteering
  • Individual empowerment; something they can do on their own
  • Connect with others, especially peers in same industry
  • Promote philanthropy, especially with family
  • Provided new focus during a life change
  • Spiritual experience

*Based on interviews and document analysis


  1. Lisa Kays says:

    Absolutely, it does seem that Giving Circles could be the wave of the future in philanthropy. There are also some great resources I found at the Giving Forum ( on Giving Circles, while we wait for a book. 😀 Another great resource are local women’s foundations, which tend to incorporate Giving Circles with great success in their work.

  2. Thanks for stopping by Lisa, I enjoy your blog. You are absolutely correct to point out that women’s foundations are big champions of giving circles and often act as host. I hope that we begin to see more resources and different types of hosts as well.

    Angela got back to me and pointed out the same resource as well.

  3. Larry Checco says:

    I read an interesting piece on a giving club in the Jan 7, Washington Post Outlook section, written by Claudia Thorne, a giving club member.

    I consult to nonprofits on the importance of branding, namely letting prospective funders clearly understand “who you are, what you do, how you do it and why they should care enough to support your work.”

    Many nonprofits that rely heavily on government funding are struggling these days because of cutbacks. I often refer to giving clubs in my seminars and workshop as alternate sources of funding.

    Does anyone know if there is a national directory or association for giving clubs that I might be able to direct my clients to?

    Larry Checco
    Checco Communications

  4. Larry – In response to your questions about a national “association”, you might want to check out our Giving Circles Network at While not a formal association or membership organization yet, we are a grassroots network that does provide national services at no cost to all Giving Circles. We also have an Advsiory Panel of nine Giving Circles. See our latest news, newsletters and the February 2006 First Annual Networking Event.

  5. The link to the report on the February 2007 Networking event is:

    Hope you find it helpful.

  6. Larry Checco says:

    Thanks, Sandy. I’ll be certain to pass your website address on to my clients and others to whom I speak.

    Giving Circles are a wonderful new trend in philanthropy. All the more reason for nonprofits to raise their brand visibility and value. How else will giving circles know these nonprofits exist and are worthy of their attention–and funding!?

  7. Larry, in response to your question about a national directory, we have a listing of all the giving circles that we have identified here: