In my world, the weeks following November 8, 2016 were defined by an almost alien sense of shock and sadness and indignation, but also by a flourishing sense of shared purpose. All around me, family, friends, neighbors, former classmates, and social networks were deciphering—individually and collectively, intimately and publicly—what part they could play in resisting the sudden new threats they saw to human rights, social justice, and our environment.
I was doing the same. I believed that widespread localized advocacy and empowerment were vital tools of resistance, but I felt limited in what I could do by myself to support such causes. By working together with a group of like-minded peers, I thought that I—that we—could do more. After seeking some initial guidance from Amplifier, I reached out to two of my former classmates at Macalester College and began working with them to form a virtual giving circle to support locally-driven social justice efforts.
It took time and dedication, but launching our circle was ultimately very rewarding. Thankfully, Amplifier’s Giving Circle Incubator offered instrumental guidance and encouragement, along with a number of ideas and models I could share with my own planning team.
Through a series of virtual meetings, Amplifier staff and guests from established giving circles reviewed each element in starting a circle: recruiting members; organizing a launch meeting; establishing shared values and choosing issues to support. Beyond logistical best practices, the Incubator delved into subjects like how we cultivate a community within our circles and how we share our story with others. Lessons were never prescriptive, but always offered practical and insightful options that each participant could consider within their own circle.
The questions posed were as valuable as lessons shared. How much time will you expect participants to commit? How will you collect and disburse contributions? How will you reach consensus—or otherwise make decisions—on issues and grantees? How will you balance your role as facilitator with your task of ceding individual control and fostering a sense of common cause? These questions had no “right” answers, but in asking them, the Incubator helped us consider our own approaches and the questions we ask our fellow giving circle members.
Beyond education and analysis, the Incubator offered encouragement. As much as participants in my giving circle want it to become impactful and meaningful, we all undergo ebbs and flows of time and energy that we can dedicate to its development and success. For me, having a series of scheduled times to be immersed in discussions on collective giving—and to hear from fellow Incubator participants about their own challenges and progressions—was a big inspiration to remain proactive and keep doing my part to help my circle take the next steps forward.
During the second webinar of the Incubator, Amplifier’s Executive Director, Joelle Asaro Berman, offered a piece of advice for how we might motivate potential members to join and become engaged in our giving circles. Share with them, she suggested, that “your giving circle gift might be the most thoughtful and strategic gift you ever give.”
Over the course of my participation in the Incubator, the Macalester Alumni Giving Circle grew from three people navigating an unfamiliar model to a collective of 15 fellow alumni—across eight states and three time zones—who have reconnected around a desire to support social justice in a more thoughtful, strategic, and communal way. In our launch e-meeting in February, many of us saw one another for the first time since we graduated almost 13 years before, but our shared motivation immediately rekindled a sense of mutual trust and conscientious community that defined our experiences as students.
Harnessing this energy, we are preparing to make our first donation together in the next month, and we intend to continue growing and giving from there. As we do, I look forward to sustaining the relationship I’ve formed with Amplifier and continuing to learn from its resources and other circles in its network.
Daniel Kravetz is a co-founder of the Macalester Alumni Giving Circle, which has a mission to leverage a broad network of resources to identify, support, and empower under-resourced organizations--across the country and beyond--that work in their communities to advance social justice and create a more progressive society. Daniel is a Baltimore-based freelancer who writes grant proposals, communication materials, reports, and stories for community-focused nonprofit organizations and publications.