“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” –Helen Keller
For many, spring is the time to think about graduation and graduation gifts. For me the last few years, spring has meant participating in a women’s collective giving circle.
The word philanthropy is derived from the Greek word philanthropia, which means love of mankind. Giving to strangers to improve humanity is a long-standing tradition of many cultures and religions. For example, in the 12th century, one well known philosopher, Rabbi Moses Maimonides, spoke about the Golden Ladder of Giving. The top rung of the ladder is giving anonymously to an unknown person; the bottom rung of the ladder is giving unwillingly.
While giving to others has been around for a long time, collective giving is relatively new. Collective giving is the pooling of resources into one pot and then deciding, as a group, how that pot of money should be used. According to a study published in 2017 by the Collective Giving Research Group, there are 1,087 independently run and currently active giving circles, along with 525 giving circle chapters that are part of different giving circle networks/programs. Additionally, there are 13 nationwide giving circles and 9 that operate only online. All together that adds up to approximately 1600, three times the number which existed 2007. Interestingly, the study found that 70% of collectives have a majority of women as members and nearly 50% were women-only. Their research also reported that giving circles have granted an estimated $1.3 billion.
My giving circle, Impact100 (funded through my Donor Advised Fund), started with 111 members in 2008 and now has 380 members. We have awarded $2 million to mostly smaller non-profits in 5 different focus areas: environment, family, education, health and wellness, arts and culture. Grants can go toward operating expenses or a specific project. To date, 31 local non-profits have received funds.
What I love about Impact100 is the process. It is truly democratic. Each participant regardless of the amount of time she puts in or the amount of the check written (above the minimum) gets one vote. Once you are assigned to a particular focus area, you have the opportunity (but not the obligation) to do a lot of things – read letters of inquiry, analyze financials, visit the sites, speak with board members – or simply write a check. Regardless of your involvement, you vote in your focus group (if you choose to participate in one) for one finalist and then again at an all-annual meeting and presentation in June, where each of the finalists from the 5 focus areas presents. The votes are tabulated that evening and the winners are announced. The three recipients who receive the most votes are each awarded grants of $100,000. The next two will receive $35,000 each.
Beyond the process, I now appreciate more than ever the visibility and exposure to all of these amazing organizations and people. There are many folks working and volunteering for a wide range of non-profits, most of which I had never heard of (let alone knew what they were doing) before joining Impact100. These are the people that make the Philadelphia region what it is and their contribution to the fabric of our community is outstanding. Their organizations are truly making an impact.