Wednesday, April 9, 2008

May the Circle Be Unbroken

Kitchen-Table Giving
by Julie Polter
Sojourners Magazine
April 2008

Philanthropy does not always have to be zillionaires bestowing a few million dollars on some worthy cause (although it is wonderful when that happens). Julie Polter's article in Sojourners points us to a way that all people, even people of limited and low income, can pool their resources for the common good. "Giving circles" are not new (the earliest were formed in the 1780s by African-Americans), but they are gaining in membership and influence. This is especially true for people who have not usually been able to participate in traditional, established philanthropic endeavors - women, people of color, young people, and people with limited disposable income.

In this cooperative form of philanthropy, a group of people puts their money together, educates themselves about community needs and potential recipients, and gives grants. Polter's article describes the process as "people giving to their community, in community." Some groups have dozens of members, others only a few. My favorite description was of a group that holds potluck dinners four times a year, and each woman brings as much money to the dinner as she feels able to contribute to the fund. The group has a system in between their face-to-face meetings through which they evaluate applications and give grants of $500 or less to women with short-term emergency needs.

This reminds me of "investment clubs," which were popular a few years ago (and probably still are, I am just not hearing as much about them), but instead of increasing the wealth of the members the purpose is to lift up the community as a whole. I am intrigued by the idea of giving circles, and their potential to have a positive impact on the lives of people who are struggling. I do not have the time to lead or administer one at this point in my life, but am wondering about finding one in which to participate. Sounds like a great way to help the community and also meet interesting people with similar concerns.

Anyone out there have any experience with a giving circle? I'd love to hear about it. Polter's article includes a couple of websites that I intend to check out - and

Reverent Reader


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