Giving Circles Bolster Giving in Diverse Communities, Study Finds

Participation in a giving circle can both strengthen communal identity and expand philanthropic reach, a report from Jumpstart finds.

According to the report, Connected to Give: Community Circles (28 pages, PDF), one in eight American donors has participated in a giving circle, including significant percentages of African-American (21 percent), Asian/Pacific Islander (16 percent), Latino (15 percent), and Jewish (14 percent ) donors who give to charity. While non-Jewish white donors make up 41 percent of giving circle participants, they account for only 10 percent of all whites who give. The report also found that participation in giving circles tends to be correlated with age — with nearly half of giving circle participants under the age of 40 — as well as volunteer experience and religious engagement.

Through interviews, the study also found that participation in giving circles helps members build personal, professional, and philanthropic connections based on a shared identity or affinity and exposes them to philanthropic and cultural traditions specific to their ethnic, religious, or affinity group. In addition, giving circles can empower people of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to participate in a culture of giving, and while they may generate smaller donation amounts than community foundations or other models of combined-purpose philanthropy, they encourage a collaborative and democratic approach to the allocation of charitable funds.

The fifth in a series of Connected to Give reports funded by a consortium of more than a dozen foundations, including the Andrea & Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, the report also found that Jewish giving circle participants exhibit high levels of Jewish social engagement and are more likely than non-participants to give to Jewish organizations (91 percent vs. 76 percent) and to organizations working in international aid or neighborhood/community causes.

"Based on our interviews and observations, we noticed a 'virtuous circle' effect," said Sarah Bunin Benor, research team leader and co-author of the report. "Giving circles connect people to like-minded individuals and lead to more meaningful, intentional, and hands-on charitable giving, as well as increased communal engagement."