September 2, 2015; Baltimore Sun

Several NPQ newswires have covered the phenomenon of giving circles, including some designed to fund specific causes. Giving circles are a type of group philanthropy where individuals gather to donate money or time to a pooled fund and then decide together how best to share their collected resources. While they have been around for many years, they continue to grow as a way to support grassroots philanthropy.

Jayne Klein and Marlene Lieb founded the Women’s Giving Circle of Harford as a way to bring together women interested in community philanthropy. In the five years since its formation, they have provided more than $150,000 to nonprofits in Harford County, specifically targeting nonprofits serving women, children, and families.

The Women’s Giving Circle began with 16 founding members and has grown to 132 members. This year, they anticipate awarding grants totaling more than $43,000 to 11 organizations.

Giving circles are appealing for many donors because they allow individual donors to provide greater financial impact by pooling donations. Each giving circle can decide how it wishes to allocate the money collected, either through a grant process or to support a specific organization, and the amount of money provided by individuals varies depending on the design of the giving circle.

Membership in the Women’s Giving Circle of Harford is open to any woman who is aligned with the mission and goals. Each member provides an annual contribution of $550, with $500 used for grants and building an endowment and $50 to cover administrative costs. Each year, the giving circle awards grants equivalent to 75 percent of the funds collected by members, with the other 25 percent of funds used to fund an endowment for long-term sustainability. The funds raised by the Women’s Giving Circle are held and managed by the Community Foundation of Harford County.

Any 501(c)(3) in Harford County is eligible to apply for a grant. As applications are received, a grants committee reviews the applications to ensure they meet the application criteria. Each grant application is then scored and ranked numerically. The top 10-15 applications are presented to the entire Giving Circle membership for voting and final selection.

The number of giving circles nationally has risen in past years, as donors look for ways to make a difference. Examples of giving circles are abundant, with more foundations and nonprofits providing tools and resources to encourage the formation of these types of philanthropic communities. The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers has developed a Handbook for Giving Circle Hosts, which provides a number of tools and resources for individuals who are interested in creating their own giving circle.

For Harford County, the impact of the Woman’s Giving Circle has been big. This year, 11 nonprofits have been selected to receive support, with grants ranging from $2,371 to $5,000, for organizations that specifically serve women, children, and families. Example programs include funding for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford to support the SMART Girls program and $4200 to Harford Family House in support of the Wheels for Work Program.

The Woman’s Giving Circle of Harford will celebrate its fifth anniversary with “A Tribute to Women Who Give” on Thursday, September 17th. Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz, co-author of Women & Philanthropy: Bolding Shaping a Better World, will present a keynote, followed by the presentation of its 2015 grants to 11 nonprofits in Harford County.—Kari Thierer