My Giving Circle Recipe

My Giving Circle Recipe

Today is Michelle Ramos-Burkhart's last day at the Women's Foundation of California. In this article, she bids us farewell and shares her wisdom with us, and you. Thank you, Michelle. We will miss you.

Michelle Ramos Burkhart

Collective philanthropy that makes an impact, is proactive and structured while also allowing for meaningful connections and friendships—that is the giving circle model and, here is the best part…it works!

As I walk away from my time overseeing the Women’s Foundation of California’s Giving Circle Network, my biggest takeaway is the sheer power of women and collective giving. It might sound cliché but this is truly a powerful tool that is growing, becoming more strategic and is now on its way to becoming a major movement.

Giving circles aren’t new, but what’s new is people’s awareness of them and women’s desire to participate. So what did I learn working with the Giving Circle Network?

Here are my top 10 takeaways:

10. Starting a circle is easy, running a circle is tough. Circles are a great philanthropic tool, but they take time and effort. I believe that women are more successful at this model because we understand that it takes hard work and we are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful.

9. Circles are as diverse as their members. While many circles collectively support one cause or issue, the members often come from diverse regions and have different backgrounds. In my opinion, the circles with broadest diversity are by far the most interesting ones.

8. Circles are leverage for learning. Every circle I’ve worked with was passionate about learning, either learning about their giving, their impact or the issues they are funding. Giving circles are an educational opportunity at its best.

7. Circles work best where there is shared leadership. When the leadership is shared or alternated year-to-year, the circle finds greater success. Creating space for more points of view and leadership styles results in more effective giving.

6. Circles are evolving with technology. With the rise of social media and the culture of giving back, which seems inherent to millennials, the circle model will need to evolve, innovate and adapt, especially if the goal is to engage young people.

5. Circles can partner together for even greater impact. Although not explored during my watch at the Foundation, there was much discussion around working together across the state to support a cause. I suspect this is the future for many giving circles state and nationwide.

4. Inclusion comes through consideration of member’s entry point. While it is up to each circle to decide on its membership criteria, the lower the threshold the more inclusive the circle. I loved knowing there were women who could be philanthropists with a $250 contribution a year!

3. Circles can impact policy—and they should. As circles become more nuanced and strategic, the next arena they’ll begin engaging in will be policy. Some circles are already doing this work, which takes their impact to another level. Expect much more in the way of collective policy support in the future.

2. Circle members make great connectors! Grant partners respond well and have great relationships with giving circle members, which, in turn, helps their relationship with the Foundation as the “mothership.” This is a good way for a foundation to personalize their brand.

1. Start a circle! If you wish to start a circle, you’re committed to women and families in the state of California and you want in-person contact with other like minded women, there is no better home than the Women’s Foundation of California.

The recipe is simple: Take one part people, one part shared passion and one part philanthropic purpose. Add all ingredients together, blend well to serve up transformative giving and change the world.

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