As we were still in the dreaming stages of Amplifier in January 2014 – before we had a name, before we even knew what the contours of the initiative would look like – we asked ourselves, “does anyone want to start a giving circle?” We decided to test the waters by soliciting applications for the first two 10-person cohorts of a Jewish Giving Circle Incubator, just to see what would happen. We advertised the Incubator in eJewishPhilanthropy and waited to see what would happen.
The response was thrilling: over 30 people from all over the world responded with their ideas for starting new giving circles. We selected 20 new circles to work with, the first 10 in North America and the second 10 around the world, intentionally creating as diverse a group as possible. We had independent circles and circles at institutions like a synagogue, a Federation, and a JCCs; in-person circles and those that met virtually; circles in different cities, states, countries; circles of young people and of Baby Boomers; an all-women circle; an alumni circle; a circle made up of young Jewish professionals working in nonprofits, and many more.
Loosely following a “design thinking” paradigm, we used the incubator to pilot the materials we were developing for Amplifier’s Resource Library, asking for constant feedback on the exercises and written resources we were developing to help new circles get off the ground. We learned a ton. We listened seriously to the feedback from incubator participants, and we adapted our materials, our advice, and our thinking accordingly.
We’ll be honest: it wasn’t 100% a success. Some of the circles just didn’t get off the ground. You wouldn’t believe how hard it was for some circles to schedule meetings for their groups - but we believed it, since we knew from our experience at Natan exactly how onerous this is! Some incubator circles had a hard time recruiting members. And, honestly, a few folks just kind of disappeared.
BUT: the incredible good news is that aside from how much the incubator process taught us about the work we needed to do, 65% of the original 20 circles actually are still going strong, and 6 of them have even made their first grants! Others are still in their planning phases. The feedback we’re getting from the successful circles is the kind of feedback that makes all of the hard work worthwhile: “it’s the best experience with giving our members have ever had.” “We learned so much.” “It’s the most any of us have ever given.” “We’re funding organizations our members had never even heard of before.” “We can’t wait to go through a new grant cycle.”
So, about one year after we announced the Incubator we’re absolutely delighted to announce the first grants made by circles in the Amplifier Incubator – with lots more to come in 2015!
Together, Amplifier incubator circles gave a total of $75,555.00 in grants in 2014:
The Jewish Giving Circle - Berkeley, made up of neighbors in Berkeley of all ages, gave $12,000 in two equal grants, one locally in Berkeley to Urban Adamah and one in Israel to the Hand in Hand school.
T'Micha, which is the hebrew word for support, is a giving circle made up of Rabbinic spouses who meet virtually. As part of their focus on Jewish infertility, T'Micha decided to give grants totaling $2,555 to three infertility support organizations working in different communities and different parts of the Jewish community: Priya, The Red Stone, and Hasidah.
Shir Tikvah Giving Circle, based out of Shir Tikvah synagogue in Minneapolis, MN, gave $16,000 total to four organizations: Honor the Earth & Solar Aid (climate justice), The Parents Circle & EcoPeace Middle East (Israeli-Palestinian peace work).
The Challah for Hunger Alumni Giving Circle, discussed in more detail in a previous blog post, gave grants totaling $20,000 to two organizations: Neighbors Together and Food Forward. Both organizations work to combat hunger in different ways, aligning with the overall mission of Challah for Hunger.
The Israel Giving Circle, hosted at the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund in San Francisco, gave a total of $24,000 to two organizations in Israel: Hagar and Aguda. Their grants were celebrated in an article in the local Jewish paper, “Donors Are in Charge of Where Money Goes.”
The Givers Minyan, a virtual circle made up of young Jewish professionals in a variety of non-profit organizations gave approximately $1,000 to Tivnu, choosing to focus on their work to create a Jewish gap year program in Portland, Oregon.
Join us in celebrating the success of these groups! We can’t wait to see what they’ll do next and to share the results of the other incubator circles. We’ll also be launching several new incubators in 2015, focusing on different types of giving circles… stay tuned for more information or reach out to us at any time!