The Continued Rise of Collective Giving

by Jason Franklin, Ph.D., W.K. Kellogg Chair for Community Philanthropy

The Landscape of Giving Circles/Collective Giving Groups in the U.S. (2016)

Collective giving groups, often known as giving circles, have tripled in number since 2007 and are an increasingly popular way for donors from diverse backgrounds to amplify the impact of their giving. This growth is noted in a new report released this week by the Collective Giving Research Group, of which I’m a founding member along with Jessica Bearman of Bearman Consulting, Julia Carboni of Syracuse University, and Angela Eikenberry of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The Landscape of Giving Circles/Collective Giving Groups in the U.S. – 2016, investigates the current scope and scale of collective giving groups in the United States to understand their impact on donor giving and civic engagement.

Giving circles and similar models of collaborative giving (GCs) entail groups of individuals who collectively donate money and sometimes unpaid time to support organizations or projects of mutual interest. Members have a say in how funding is given and which organizations or projects are supported.

We found that GCs have engaged at least 150,000 people in all 50 states and given as much as $1.29 billion since their inception. A majority are created around a particular identity — including groups based on gender, race, age and religion. Further, giving circles have become more inclusive of income levels as the average and most frequent amount given by individual donors may be decreasing, while total dollars donated by giving circles are increasing.

GCs are a powerful tool to democratize and diversify philanthropy, engage new donors and increase local giving. This research sheds critically needed new light on this popular form of collective giving. In a time when philanthropy is increasingly focused on billionaires’ giving, this research is an important reminder that everyday givers are coming together and pooling their resources to make a difference in their communities and for the issues they care about.

This new study is a significant contribution to ongoing efforts to understand the changing face of charitable giving and how to harness the trends in philanthropy to encourage more giving by all. These findings provide strong evidence that GCs are an increasingly significant philanthropic force, engaging a greater diversity of donors, including women, people of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, and donors of all wealth levels. Our thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, via the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation who co-funded this research.

The Landscape of Giving Circles/Collective Giving Groups in the U.S. – 2016 is being released in conjunction with the first-ever summit for GC networks hosted by the Johnson Center on November 14–15, 2017. The landscape scan is the first of a three-part inquiry, which also includes research related to the impact of participation in giving circles on members’ giving and civic engagement, and a study of the relationships between giving circles and their hosting organizations. Initial findings from the other two studies are included in The State of Giving Circles Today: Overview of New Research Findings.

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