More than Money: Engagement, Education & Building Community
Originally posted on eJewishPhilanthropy.com
By Felicia Herman
Natan Fund Israel trip
The first thing most people think of when they hear “giving circle” is money. That makes sense: as I discussed in Part I of this series, giving circles are about giving money and empowering givers to give proactively and thoughtfully to effect real change in the world.
But we unlock giving circles’ true power when we begin to think about them also as multi-faceted programs with tremendous potential for engaging, inspiring, educating, and building community. That people are also giving through this mechanism is often just icing on the cake.
Part of Amplifier‘s goal is to demonstrate the diversity of giving circles, helping people to realize that anyone – any group of individuals, any institution – can adapt the model in beneficial ways. Giving circles are yet another example of the trend toward empowered Jewish experiences – an excellent way to experience being part of a Jewish communityof your own making. What independent minyanim have done for Jewish religious life, what Kevah is doing for customized Jewish learning, and what Moishe House does for creating grassroots living communities, giving circles can do for Jewish giving. Just like we believe people should feel empowered to give in ways that resonate with their values and goals, we also believe that individuals should be empowered to create their own communities and to be inspired by real and substantive engagement with the issues that mean the most to them.
Form Follows Function
We like to say that giving circles are infinitely customizable. Form follows function: each giving circle reflects the culture and the goals of the people who are engaged in it, the type of giving the group wants to do, and – sometimes – the goals of an entity that is hosting or sponsoring the circle.
There are (at least) four ways to classify Jewish giving circles; each circle may very well plot itself differently on each spectrum:
Education/Engagement/Identity (Jewish or otherwise)
Giving to Jewish and/or Israeli organizations
As an example, the giving circle that I lead, Natan, lands on the left on all four spectrums. We strive to emulate best practices in philanthropy in our grantmaking; we see our grant review process and our event calendar as ways to educate members, connecting them to Jewish issues and Jewish life in new ways (including an annual trip to Israel); we plan events, meetings, and other network-weaving activities, positioning Natan as an important personal and professional community for our members; and we primarily support Jewish and Israeli organizations. These traits and decisions reflect the interests of our particular group of members.
Other circles look very different – and that’s a good thing. There’s no standard, no “right” way to set up a giving circle: a successful circle understands its goals, maps its assets, and creates a structure to fit.
This is even true in terms of how a giving circle defines what it means to be a “Jewish” giving circle. Amplifier defines a Jewish giving circle as one that is explicitly inspired by Jewish values – no matter where it gives. This maximally inclusive description enables anyone to participate in a Jewish giving circle – you don’t even have to be Jewish! Some circles are inspired by Jewish values to give universally; others split their funding between Jewish and non-Jewish organizations; and others, like Natan, focus primarily on giving to Jewish organizations. (We discuss this topic in a little more depth in Giving to Jewish Organizations in the Amplifier Resource Library.)
Indeed, being “infinitely customizable” means that there’s no end to what giving circles can accomplish, no set of rules that giving circles must follow. It also means that there’s no limit to how many people can be engaged, in what ways, and for which purposes. Consider the following examples of the many purposes that giving circles can serve. Hopefully they will jumpstart your thinking on how you or your organization might create a giving circle in the near future!
Acharai Fund Purim party
Giving circles can engage people in Jewish life, Jewish values, and Jewish issues (and different groups can define those terms differently, as they see fit).
Giving circles can build sticky, values-driven communities, offering families, friends, colleagues or neighbors a way to connect regularly while doing something meaningful together.
Giving circles can educate people about particular issues - while actually doing something about those issues (i.e. giving).
Slingshot Fund site visit
Giving circles engage people in voluntarism and civil society, and educate them about the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors.
Giving circles can involve stakeholders and new people in organizations in new ways that can (but don’t have to) involve giving to that organization as well.
In the next part of this series, I’ll walk through some of the steps to starting up a new giving circle. For now, I hope it’s clear that anyone, at any level of giving, with any focus area, caring about any issue, in (just about) any organizational framework – or independently – can start or be part of a giving circle. The clearer you can be about the many goals of your circle, the better chance you will have of creating a meaningful experience for yourself and other participants.
Take the (Easy) Next Step
I’ve drawn heavily on Amplifier’s Giving Circle Directory in this post to give a sense for the diversity of existing Jewish giving circles. For deeper dives on some of the issues covered in this post, check out Amplifier’s Resource Library; in particular the Case Studies of different circles; Giving Circle Essentials, our introduction to giving circles; and Map Your Assets: The 3Ts / 3Ws, which discusses the many things people might “donate” to a giving circle beyond money.
And stay tuned for the next installment in this series, Part 3 – Getting Started.