Episode #060: Giving Circles and Collective Philanthropy with Sara Lomelin

Hey, welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity cause membership or movement, I made this podcast just for you. Welcome everybody to another episode of the Volunteer Nation Podcast.

I am very excited to bring you my guest today, Sara Lomelin. I’m going to talk about her bio in a minute, but she is an expert in Giving Circles and collective philanthropy and her mission in life, I think, and we’ll talk about it, but I think is to really shake up the philanthropic landscape. And, here at VolunteerPro, we’re also very interested in doing that when it comes to community engagement, volunteer talent, and thinking about new ways we can engage the community in our missions, I think that’s the most important thing right now.

We’ve definitely seen a decrease, especially due to the pandemic, but in decades we’ve seen a decrease in interest in the community in traditional sort of volunteer roles, and I know you as organizations still need those roles filled and you still have those mission requirements. But I also want to talk and start to think about the other ways we can leverage community talent to help our organizations become more sustainable.

And that sustainability might help us, hire more staff, might help us better engage volunteers, might help us get more resources. So when we’re trying to think about cracking the nut of our missions, I think we have to start thinking in a much more diverse way.

I think we need to think about not only the diversity of the communities we bring into our missions, but also a mosaic of ways people can actually give. And so that’s why I am so excited to have Sara here. I think it’s going to be a great conversation. And let me just tell you a little bit about Sara.

Sara is a connector of people and ideas, a relationship builder and a firm believer that everyone can be a philanthropist. Okay, guys, is that not the coolest thing? A self-proclaimed philanthropy disruptor. There you go. Sara has traveled the world speaking about the power of collective giving at high profile conferences and events, including TED 2022 where she delivered her talk, Your Invitation to Disrupt Philanthropy. I love that.

As a Founding CEO or the Founding CEO of Philanthropy Together, Sara is growing a movement of people powered philanthropy to resource grassroots nonprofits to shift power dynamics and promote widespread philanthropy. Prior to philanthropy together, Sara served as Senior Director of Leadership Philanthropy in Action Opportunity Fund, and as VP of Philanthropy at the Latino Community Foundation, where she created the Latino Giving Circle Network trademark, the largest network of Latinx philanthropists in the us.

Sara serves on the National Council of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly School of Philanthropy and the board of directors at Giving Tuesday and Battery Power. Sara holds a BA from Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and an administration and management certificate from Harvard University. Welcome.

Sara: Thank you, Tobi. Thank you so much for the invitation. I’m so thrilled to be here with all of you.

Tobi: Yeah, and we have to talk later because. I have a friend or used to have a friend years ago when I lived in Chicago, whose family, his dad was like the director of curriculum development. Anyway, small world, right?

Sara: I mean it’s just with universities like you would say, like your Loyola University here. So it’s a pretty big college in Mexico City.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. And when I saw your school, I went, wait a minute. I know that school. Anyway, well, let’s get started. Tell our audience a little bit more about what you do. We know your bio, but what really sparked your interest in philanthropy and Giving Circles.

Sara: Well actually, what sparked my interest? I got into philanthropy kind of on through the side door. As many people. I am originally from Mexico City. And I moved to the US 26 years ago, and I was living at that point in Dallas, Texas, in the suburbs of Dallas. And coming from another country, I really wanted to understand the education system where my kids were going to school.

So I became the defacto volunteer at school. I was the room mom, the grade level coordinator, the mom in charge of the fall festival. So as many people, the entry door into philanthropy is through volunteerism, right? Giving your time. So, yes, I started kind of raising funds for the school district, et cetera, et cetera.

And with a group of Mexican friends in Dallas, we started a Giving Circle without even knowing that that was called a given circle, or that there were many Giving Circles around. So a few years later, I moved back to the Bay Area. And there was an opportunity to join the Latino Community Foundation in San Francisco.

So I joined the Latino Community Foundation to do development, as head of fundraising and thinking like, my God, and I have never in my life done like fundraising, like official fundraising, and I have never worked for a foundation, right? So I started learning from the get-go.

So at that moment, the foundation was being funded basically by larger foundations and some corporations, but we didn’t have like a good base of individual donors. There was an annual event every year, annual event every year. My god, of course.

Tobi: But not in a pandemic.

Sara: Of course. So there was the annual gala and people will come to the gala and as many people that go to galas, they think that by buying their individual ticket, they’re actually donating to the organization.

Which we, people in nonprofits know that that is not the case because those events are super expensive to produce and to put together. So there was no kind of a strategy to really engage individual donors. So in 2012, I started the first Latina Giving Circle in San Francisco with a group of 16 women that were very interested in supporting women and girls, financial empowerment of women and girls.

And we started a Giving Circle. Every woman was supposed to be giving a thousand dollars a year. So $84 a month, less than $3 a day. I always say like, yeah, cut it out, cut it out. Make it doable. It’s less than your coffee. And that first year, the given circle gave $10,000 in grants to great grassroots, tiny Latino led Latino serving nonprofit organizations in the Bay Area.

And from there, we started Giving Circles across California until we had the whole Latino Giving Circle network with 23 Giving Circles. And during those years, because when we started, I didn’t even know there was nothing written. There was an amazing organization that started almost at the same time as us, Amplifier which is a network of Giving Circles based on Jewish values and they’re based in New York. And they created a beautiful website with a lot of resources and everything was open source. So I started like finding my people in other parts of the country working with different communities.

So there was Amplifier with the Jewish community, the Community Investment Network in Alabama. Working with the black community and in the south. There was AAPIP, Asian-American Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy. So I started meeting all these incredible women. I will get back of white women that were doing the same in different communities.

And in 2017 a group of them called me and they said, okay, there is not a place for us Giving Circle people to convene and get together and learn from each other. So we are going to meet in Michigan in November, and we’re just going to spend a couple of days brainstorming and dreaming of what is possible for the American Giving Circle movement.

So we did, we were about 50 people, about 20 Giving Circle networks at that point. And we spent two days just learning from each other and saying, okay, how many Giving Circles do you have? How do you do this? And of course we saw that it’s a very diverse movement, completely decentralized because half of Giving Circles are part of networks, but the other half are tiny Giving Circles.

It can be you and eight of your friends sitting around your chin table. So very decentralized, but everyone with the same mission of how do we support local, small grassroots nonprofits, right? So I’m talking about women and why is this because 70% of giving struggles are led by women.

Tobi: Awesome.

Sara: Yes, because I have this theory that I hope I can prove with some research, but really, people that get involved in Giving Circles are not your regular donors, and for all your audience, this is going to resonate, right? Because volunteers are not regular donors, too. Volunteers want to pull up their sleeves and they want to engage and they want to work.

Giving Circle, people are exactly the same. They don’t want to give a passive donation or a reactive donation. This is not crowdfunding. This is not, oh, go and donate for this, and then five minutes later you don’t remember what you donated to. People that are engaged in Giving Circles, they want to learn about the different causes.

They want to learn about the different organizations that are attacking those issue areas. They want to give their 5 Ts. They want to give their treasure, which is their financial donation, but they also want to give their time and their talent and their ties and their testimony. So it’s people that really want to get engaged.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. It’s interesting, it’s almost a hybrid of volunteerism and individual giving.

Sara: It’s like both.

Tobi: Yeah, which was why I thought you’d be a great guest here, because I don’t think people think about this. And it’s interesting in terms of volunteer engagement, I often get questions about, well, how do I fund my volunteer engagement? There aren’t grants out there, and I’m like, well, number one, research shows that actually community foundations might fund this type of activity. You need to ask. If you’re not asking, they’re not giving number one and number two, what about your existing volunteers if they see a particular need, and you can make a compelling case for how it can leverage your impact.

I think we think in a very sort of one-dimensional thinking. I think it needs to be multi-dimensional thinking. And so I love this idea of Giving Circles. I love the way you built out, it was grassroots organizing that got you to where you were. And I love that it’s diverse communities that are working at the edges or creating new opportunities in different ways rather than through the standard like donor advised fund, like all big corporate or people of wealth.

It’s regular people I often think and say that volunteer leaders, those that give a lot of time, that are very invested, it’s a way of life for them that they’re going to have this support in their community and they would rather leverage it together because it creates more power in some ways having influence, but also creating a really sizable, significant contribution.

Sara: Totally. And actually Tobi, something that last year when I had the opportunity to go to TED, right, like we defined the pieces of a given circle as first you need to create a sense of belonging. And I feel that it’s the same that you need to create with your volunteers in your nonprofit. Sense of belonging, something that people are going to come back because they’re part of something that is bigger than themselves.

The second part is to create a space, an open space for discourse. And this is very particular of Giving Circles because around the same table, you can have people with very different perspectives. Very different, you can be across the aisle politically or ideologically or however you want to see it, but you find those values that make you similar.

And you open this space for discourse to hear different perspectives and will always says, you always come with something to share, and you live with something that you learn, right? So instead of finding the differences in each other, you and I can find that piece that we both are passionate about and we can get behind that, that idea.

And then the third part is giving with trust. And I feel that this is also something that is very key to volunteers because people go and volunteer in a nonprofit that they trust. They trust the leaders of the nonprofit and the work they’re doing, and they trust each other. And it’s the same in a given circle.

Like people donate or they create this pool fund of money before they even know where the money’s going to go. So they trust the process, they trust each other, and the whole idea is that that trust will get transferred to the leaders on the ground. Because at the end of the day, you and I know that we as donors, we don’t know anything.

I mean, the ones that know what the community needs are those leaders on the nonprofits that are working in that community. So we should trust them. And I was talking about power dynamics and blurring power dynamics, it’s beautiful because a lot of times you have people in Giving Circles, there are people from the community.

So you have the same donors, the same volunteers are people from the community. So you go full circle and then at the end, or the fourth part of a given circle is really acting in abundance. So it’s going beyond the dollar, and that is where you have the time, the talent, the testimony, the ties.

Tobi: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s interesting. I feel volunteers are often, I call them the interconnective tissue between the community and the organization. And they can bring that perspective. Sometimes that’s valuable as well, not only the, the contribution of a pair of hands, but also the perspective of the community and the community’s real priorities.

And maybe in some ways informing the nonprofit in terms of service delivery or gaps in service, or cultural competence. There’s all kinds of issues that might come up that people can bring to the table. Do Giving Circles also, because I have a friend in Oakland who’s a really good friend of mine and she’s part of a black philanthropic organization, but it is like, it operates like a Giving Circle, but they do a fundraising event every year as well.

So there’s an individual giving requirement, but they also do a big event. They’re looking for sponsors. In fact, I sponsored this year because she’s my friend and I love what she’s doing in it. And their focus is really on kids in their community in Oakland. Do Giving Circles also get involved in fundraising like that or is it traditionally more just individuals pulling money?

Sara: We always say that one given circle, one given circle because the model is so flexible, and that’s the beauty of it, right? Like you can invent your own rules, right? So they are Giving Circles.

That is, they’re very straight and they say, all the money has to come from us. But there are many Giving Circles. I, one of the Giving Circles that I started the Latinx lgbtq Giving Circle in San Francisco, they used to give, again, each member gave a thousand dollars a year. But they will partner with some bars in the mission in San Francisco, and they’ll do like a happy hour and a percentage of the sales of the drinks will go to the Giving Circle.

The organize different fundraising events to add to the pot of money that they’re going to give. There are other Giving Circles that a few weeks before the night that they’re going to give their grants, they start like a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign to add to that. And then in this past few years, and it was kind of the no, I’m not going to call it silver lining because there was no silver lining, but something that came out of the pandemic, right? A lot of tech platforms, and so for example, there is this tech platform called Grapevine that is free for Giving Circles. And it’s great, it’s super user friendly and you can also create like a fun, like a mini fundraising campaign and invite people from outside of your community to give.

And that is something that we saw that technology has allowed hyper local Giving Circles to be able to raise more funds from other places. And also  the explosion of regional Giving Circles, national Giving Circles. So just like , beyond borders Giving Circles.

Tobi:  Fantastic. Well, I’ll post some links to some of these resources, Grapevine. Crowd Rise is also, I don’t know if Crowd Rise is still going. I’ll check it out, but that’s more of a crowdfunding. I used Crowd Rise years ago for a birthday fundraiser. It was for a local healthcare advocacy organization that I was on the board of, and I did a birthday fundraiser.

So every, all my friends and family around the country could donate. Yeah, yeah. And it worked, it worked great. Yeah. So what are some of the benefits for an individual for getting involved? I mean, I know also we as people who believe in community and work in community, we may also ourselves be interested in starting up or becoming involved in a Giving Circle.

What are totally, I feel a, that actually we are the best. You’re not going to, we’re the best community to start Giving Circles because we understand this work. Right. But sorry, I totally interrupted you. What? Totally fine. So if folks had this spark right now, now we’re going to talk a, after the break we’re going to, I have a few more questions and we’re going to take a break and then after the break we’re going to talk about how organizations.

Can engage with Giving Circles and support them, but, , how do people get involved? What are the benefits if they’re, if they’re getting a spark thinking,  what, I have a group of friends and we want to go out there and make some rucks in our community. What, what are the benefits and how do people form these Giving Circles?

Or do they find them? Yeah, the benefits actually, , there is a report that is going to be polished, my God, like in the next few weeks that Latino Community Foundation did in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Mm-hmm. And it’s beautiful to see because there is literally, people are, are happier.

And healthier when they are part of a Giving Circle because you are part of a community, right? And a lot of Giving Circles, as I was telling you, it’s around the table. You’re sharing a meal, you’re, , you’re sharing a glass of wine, you are laughing, you are, , it’s, it’s love. It’s basically love.

Yes. And that, , it’s good for the soul always. How do people find Giving Circles on our website, philanthropy together.org? We have a directory of Giving Circles that we did in partnership with Grapevine. So we have, there is about 3000 Giving Circles in that directory so far. So you can plug your zip code or you can put some keywords and you can find a Giving Circle in your community in case you don’t find one that  catches your attention.

We give free. Trainings every single month. So every single month we have a training called Launch Path, and it’s 90 minutes. And in 90 minutes you will get everything that you need to start your given circle. Mm-hmm. So you get like a toolkit and you say, okay, step eight, you do this, step B, you do this, step C.

[00:22:41] And then after that, , we have different trainings that you can attend. Everything in our website is for free. Uh, we have a library of resources, we have a YouTube channel full of videos. And when you become part of the Philanthropy together family, You are invited also to group coaching every, every month.

[00:23:02] So people come and say, oh, I’m having this issue, blah, blah, blah. And , there’s a lot of peer learning. We have a LinkedIn group. What else do we have? We have an amazing equity and justice in collective giving series. So tons of resources because I, I didn’t finish the whole story after we met together in 2017.

[00:23:23] All these circle leaders, We embarked in a full year of a co-design project, so we involve more than a hundred people hours and hours of Zoom calls before Zoom was even popular. Mm-hmm. This was 2019 and we ended up with a beautiful business plan of a five year initiative, which is philanthropy together.

[00:23:45] So we were basically co-created and co-designed by many Giving Circles. Members. Mm. I love it. I love it. I just want to put a pin in this for a minute and call this out because I’m seeing a way for a Giving Circle type of approach to be adapted to a type of Giving Circle that’s around time and talent, right?

[00:24:13] Mm-hmm. And one of the things that nonprofits are often struggling with right now, Are the traditional ways they’ve been involving volunteers, and volunteers are coming to them and saying, look, I don’t have time to come, like, to sign my life away. I can only come like, , for project base, right? I can’t come every week for four hours on Thursdays.

[00:24:37] , I, I’m busy and the world Society at large is much busier than it used to be. I, or it feels that way. The pressure feels that way and people are, , kind of a little bit tired. Over the, , stress of the past few years, and I wonder about this approach. Some of these principles of, of Giving Circles might be also, when I think about volunteer leaders and supporting them, there are very similar principles.

[00:25:00] For example, the principle that you do not have to agree. Like politically or even philosophically, the only thing you need to agree on is the mission and that you’re willing to put your shoulder to the wheel with everybody else for this particular mission that you have a, a cause or that you have a passion around.

[00:25:17] So I think, , there’s that, that, and I, I see that with, when I talk about volunteer leadership, I, I like to talk about that because I’m on a volunteer team where I know, I know for a. Fact, we don’t vote the same, but that’s okay because we’re all, we’re all master gardeners and we want, we do our gardening thing and we, we teach people in the community about horticulture and et cetera.

[00:25:37] That’s our thing, that’s our passion and, and we can get it together around that. But there’s also this approach, a, a principle that’s coming up is this kind of community driven grassroots to grass tops. Type of approach and flow. And it makes me wonder, , if organizations can think of things they need around people’s hands and thoughts and skillsets.

[00:26:03] Where they might partner with volunteer teams to get that done as well. And have that dynamic of let the volunteer team come up with some of the, , some of the core ideas around the project itself. Have the nonprofit share with them what is the result we want. You guys go figure out what it is because you are, , the community, you have skillset, you have time, you have talent.

[00:26:28] And it, , in Giving Circles it’s more about it, it is about volunteering, but , it’s really about the, the cash contribution or the financial contribution. But I think you could do a, a, a similar model with similar principles, with also with time and talent and really, Blur, as you said, blur those power dynamics and really give that community team more power in deciding how they’re going to help fi reach that result.

[00:26:55] That’s the, it’s just, it’s, it’s really interesting the, the similarities that C might happen. Totally. Because actually,  what, who is going to be your best, , cheerleader? The people that are passionate about your mission, who is going to be passionate about your mission, the people that really understand it and leave it right?

[00:27:18] Like ha have, , lived into the mission. So something that I think it’s always really important, even if you are going to call volunteers to do a particular task. Ask. Ask which, what are the other skills that they have, right? Mm-hmm. Because you may have. , a lot of professional skills that you don’t even know, right?

[00:27:41] Mm-hmm. In the volunteers that have been going to nonprofit for years, in, in, in many of the given struggles that I have started, we have like a very simple spreadsheet. And people will put, okay, my top five skills are this, and something that people don’t know about me is X. Mm-hmm. And I really enjoy doing, , Y And with that you have like a spreadsheet, like a marketplace of talents and skills.

[00:28:08] Yes, yes. And for example, , I remember years ago that a given circle was very focused on getting people registered to vote. Doesn’t matter if they, what they’re going to vote for, but, , registering to vote. And there was an organization in the, in California, in the Central Valley that were really, , doing a phone bank with paper.

[00:28:34] And one of the members of the given circle said, okay, no, no, no, no, no, this, this cannot be like this. I’ll, I’ll, I’ll help you. Like do a program big and , she’s an engineer. And she took a few, , weekends to build this for the nonprofit. So this was extremely helpful. Right. So I filled what exactly what you said, like if nonprofit leaders can, , if you take the time to engage with your volunteers at the personal level.

[00:29:05] Yeah, not us. Okay. Everybody come and paint these walls, right? Or, or let’s fix this. Like, really, , take the time to meet them and to know what they’re passionate about, what their skills are. , I know it takes time because I, I, I, I have been in nonprofits. For many years too. And I know it is, it’s hard to organize volunteers.

[00:29:29] To manage volunteers, right. But I feel that it, , if you plan the time to get them to, to get to know them at the beginning, everything will be, it’s easier at the end of the day, at the end of the day. And, and you build, if they have a fantastic experience and they’re able to, to leverage the talents that they want to, not everybody wants to leverage every talent they have.

[00:29:52] Mm-hmm. But when they feel like that work is so, , is really meaningful, they end up staying and then you’re not, , you’re not a revolving door volunteers. The, the investment of building the relationship, yes. It is so much more about people than paperwork. , people’s work with volunteers thinking it’s all about the application and the background check and the this and that, and I’m like,  what?

[00:30:18] You can have a messy process. But you cannot have messy relationships. Totally. And actually, , you, you said it perfectly, is that volunteer that is going to stay, that volunteer is going to talk. Passionately about your mission to other people. Yeah. That all those other people can become donors or volunteers or, , it’s just a ripple effect.

[00:30:44] And as you said, it’s taking care of that relationship from the very beginning. Also, , your volunteers as Giving Circle members are the perfect pipeline for board members for you, exactly. For your organization. Yeah. Yeah. Or other leaders, , the more you can do. I mean, I’m really promoting lately that folks have a pipeline to leadership for team leaders.

[00:31:09] , before project leaders, before you even get to board. It’s a great, there’s a like a step-by-step PR pipeline that can happen. Well, let’s, let’s talk more about Giving Circles. I hope this has piqued people’s creativity and interest in, huh? How could I rethink? How I engage volunteers and change from, I think the difference that we’re seeing here is from an HR role filling perspective, like I have these roles that are open, I need to find in the community people to fill these roles.

[00:31:42] It’s very much like an employment model, quote unquote. Mm-hmm. To a community organizing model where it’s more grassroots to grass tops, where you’re, it’s a talent management model. You’re trying to find people who have a passion and then you’re trying to match those skills and talents with projects that make sense, that can move your mission forward.

[00:32:02] I think that’s the kind of like, if I were to compare the two approaches, that’s the way I would look at it, and I think that this. , I know there was some recent research right before the pandemic, there was some research in, in England, in the uk, actually in the UK from N C V O, uh, called Time Well Spent, and they 10,000 volunteers, they researched and surveyed and talked to, and they said, look, , our time has to be well spent.

[00:32:27] We don’t want our time wasted. And many of the volunteers who were giving the most time felt like volunteering was becoming more like paid work. And that’s not the point of volunteering to feel like work, right? Yes. So I think it’s this grassroots, , very organic and you have to be willing to, , I realize that there are, , Projects and tasks that need to be done in organizations.

[00:32:52] But you can even have a team-based approach, like, okay, we’re going to adopt this day of the week, or this day of the month, where don’t worry, we will handle the service or the what, the task that needs to be done at that time. So even with your more traditional volunteer roles, you could bring a Giving Circle in to adopt that particular, , timeframe for service.

[00:33:14] So I just think there’s a lot of different ways to, to think about this. So, Let’s talk about how do Giving Circles decide. , you have a group of people, they have different perspectives, different passions. Are they already, when they join a Giving Circle, are they always already saying like, okay, the g the, the focus of this Giving Circle is voting, getting people get out the vote, or it’s animals a welfare, or it’s literacy, or it’s whatever.

[00:33:44] Or does the group come together and say, okay, we’re going to have a conversation, we’re going to build consensus about the what we want to, what impact area we want, we want to invest in? So some Giving Circles are like that, like some Giving Circles have a very clear. Objective. Right? So if you are like the new person joining established, given circle that already, , has their ways, well you, you are joining knowing that, right?

[00:34:11] Like for example, I am part of a given circle that is the, the Peninsula Latina given circle. And we review our issue, like our focus areas every year. So the first meeting every year, we sit down and we said, okay, are we keeping our, our focus this year or are we switching? Right? So we have been keeping the same thing for years, a little bit tweaking it, but for example, we support survivors of domestic violence.

[00:34:41] We, we support early childhood education and everything has to be, , with a lens of social justice and it’s just in San Mateo County. So we’re very specific. So if someone joins, , in the middle of the year, our given circle, they know that these are our focus areas. Mm-hmm. But there are other Giving Circles that, for example, they give every quarter and they change every quarter.

[00:35:09] And it’s just, , their focus is their local community. So there is not a particular focus around literacy or health or animal welfare. It is whatever, , it’s, it’s needed. They will focus. There is a great Giving Circle that has more than a hundred teenagers in Arizona. So Cool. Yes. There’re 180 teenagers.

[00:35:35] And they give two issues that affect teenagers. So every quarter they change, but it’s about, , mental health in adolescents, addiction, addiction prevention, and different things. And they, , they are, they discuss the issues that they care about and they decide in terms of how Giving Circles make decisions.

[00:35:58] , again, smaller Giving Circles is a lot easier to get to consensus. In larger Giving Circles, because they’re Giving Circles that have more than a hundred members, right. It’s very difficult to do consensus with more than a hundred people. Yes. So they make some decisions via consensus and some, just like democratic voting, right?

[00:36:17] Mm-hmm. Or some of the larger Giving Circles, they may have like a committee or a team, a working group, that it’s kinda their, their grant team. So everybody, everybody, , trust. Trust this team that is making the decisions. And then everybody votes at the, at, at, at the end, right? But it’s a democratic vote.

[00:36:38] So they’re very different ways of how Giving Circles make decisions. And again, that’s the beauty of it, of it, because you can set your own rules. And in the trainings that we have in launchpad, like which show you like the spectrum, right? Mm-hmm. What is more formal? What is less formal? What it, , what it, it’s going to be more uh uh, difficult to.

[00:36:59] To less difficult and you pick where you want to be. Yeah, in the spectrum. That’s awesome. Do Giving Circles ever have a, are they usually open to anybody or do they sometimes have specific requirements for membership in the circle? I’m sure there’s some type of give. Minimal, right. Minimum expectation.

[00:37:23] Some of them, yes. Some of some Giving Circles have like a set minimum donation. We always say, , set a minimum. Don’t set, I mean, set the floor, don’t set the ceiling because , you don’t want to cap it. But there are many Giving Circles that because they want to be a lot more diverse and they want to include, , younger voices that they have.

[00:37:46] Not a set donation, but , each member will give something that it’s, , meaningful to. Yeah. So, or some Giving Circles have also sliding scales in terms of ages. So for example, if you are in between 20 and 30, you give X 30 and 40, you’ll give y. And then there is other very, , sophisticated Giving Circles that they have.

[00:38:09] The way they do their donations is a percentage of their income. Every year. Yep. So, , they give 1% of 10% of income or 1% of wealth. And, , there is a lot of trust in that given circle because I am not going to ask you, Hey Tobi, show me your tax return. Right. Like, I’m trusting you. Right. And you are trusting me.

[00:38:32] And , there is, so that depends. Also, , in the, in this particular case, it’s a group of friends, right? They’re. 15 friends, they have known each other for many years, so they, they, there’s a lot of trust there. Yeah. Yeah. That’s fantastic. Well, hey, let’s take a quick break and after the break I want to talk about the organization side.

[00:38:53] So how they connect with Giving Circles, how they can. Let Giving Circles know they’re available, that kind of thing. The partnership that goes on, how they can maybe spark Giving Circles perhaps in their area. So we’ll be right back after the break with more on Giving Circles and collective philanthropy and busting out those old school methods.

[00:39:14] Gang, we, we are looking in the, into the future and gang, , if you really think about it, communities now, people want to have a say. , because of technology, because of the way the world, I think more and more people want to have a say. They don’t want to just follow the command and control leadership model within organizations around supervision, even of employees isn’t working anymore.

[00:39:39] So when we think about the nonprofit as the only keeper of the truth, That’s sort of a command and control type of top-down model. And I think with Giving Circles, that really breaks that up and distributes power. It also respects those people in the community. It offers them respect. And I think it’s just a fantastic way to also just give everybody an opportunity to be part of making our world a better place.

[00:40:07] And , sometimes people aren’t sure how to do it, or as you said earlier at the top of the conversation. We don’t just want people writing a check and forgetting about us. We actually do want people involved in our organization. Sometimes it’s a little messy having managed volunteers myself, I know.

[00:40:25] But we’ll be right back with more on Giving Circles and Collector philanthropy with Sara, so don’t go anywhere. If you enjoy this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the Volunteer Pro Premium membership. This community is the most comprehensive resource for attracting, engaging, and supporting dedicated high impact volunteer talent for your good cause.

[00:40:52] Volunteer Pro premium membership helps you build or renovate an effective what’s working now volunteer program with less stress and more joy so that you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward. It is the only implementation of its kind that helps your organization build.

[00:41:11] Maturity across five phases of our proprietary system, the volunteer strategy success path. If you’re interested in learning more, visit alpro.net/join. Okay, we’re back with this fantastic conversation with Sa Lovin about Giving Circles and , thinking about how they might be a adapted for volunteerism as well.

[00:41:37] Let’s talk about the organizational side of things. How do Giving Circles relate to overall trends in philanthropy and how do  what, what’s the trend line for these and how, how do organizations need to know, what do they need to know and be aware of in terms of this movement and this phenomenon?

[00:41:56] Is it on the Yes. Is it on the, the growth? How are, let’s start with that and then we’ll talk about how to get involved. Yes. Well, , something very important to note is that Giving Circles are not new. And they are not American, actually, even circles and community philanthropy has been going on for many, many hundreds of years.

[00:42:16] Mm-hmm. All around the world, right? Mm-hmm. And especially, , in communities of color, like every single community in the world has one, , type of community, philanthropy, and Giving Circle kinda thing, right? Like the whole concept of people banding together to create change and to help each other is.

[00:42:37] , as all as humanity itself, but they are on the rise again. Because I feel, especially now, , after the pandemic, people are hungry for connection. Yes. And Giving Circle gives you that, right? Giving Circles give you, give, give you that, that connection to other people and how, , how organizations can find or relate to Giving Circles.

[00:43:02] Giving Circles are. Incredible for small organizations that are. Many times invisible to traditional philanthropy, right? Mm-hmm. How many times do you have, you are volunteering a nonprofit or, or, or , of a nonprofit that it’s too small to ask for a grant to a bigger foundation or, or the community foundation?

[00:43:24] Well, maybe the c maybe the community foundation doesn’t even know about you. Right? Or a corporation in your community is like, mm, you’re too small. So Giving Circles are that step. Between the individual donors and a corporate donation or a foundation donation mm-hmm. Is because it’s a group of individual donors, basically.

[00:43:47] But they’re like, you can, a lot of times they’re the steep funders for these grassroots nonprofits, and you can then go and leverage that funding to get larger funding from. A company or a bigger foundation because you can say, Hey, guess what? My nonprofit has been supported by X given circle for the past two years.

[00:44:10] Right? It’s like a seal of approval. Mm-hmm. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, many, when I was working at Latino Community Foundation, a lot of the, of incredible organizations, they were not in a radar and they were brought to the light to us by Giving Circle members that, that, that said,  what? We should look into this nonprofit that I know that it’s in my community, blah, blah, blah.

[00:44:37] And , that’s how you, we started knowing. And you start, , they start growing. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Such an interesting, yeah. We have some volunteer pro members in our membership community who, who work for smaller organizations. I, I can think of one in particular where they’ve been really growing in the, they’ve started very, very small and they’ve started to grow and grow, grow their volunteer engagement, but also grow the support they’re getting.

[00:45:04] I love this idea of, , get the community involved early. Don’t think, , we, when we as nonprofit founders, folks think they gotta do it alone. No, of course it’s their passion project and, and they’ve got this big idea and all this, but , you’re much more powerful when you have the, the community involved.

[00:45:24] And again, it does, it gives you credibility because it’s sort of like you have a tested and proven product, right, that the community’s willing, willing to support. So what advice would you give to organizations that want to partner with Giving Circles? Where do they find them? What do they. Do outreach to them?

[00:45:41] Do they just wait until they’re chosen? What, well, how can people say like,  what, I want to, I want to partner with a Giving Circle, and I would say, likely, gang, this isn’t going to be a top-down kind of relationship. It’s going to be a, a fairly close relationship and you gotta be prepared for that. But what, what advice would you give?

[00:46:00] Again, , take a look at the directory because there are many Giving Circles that are open for nonprofits to reach out to them. Like I would say that the majority, , it’s, they’re open for you as a nonprofit to send an email and saying, Hey, I am such and such for this nonprofit in your community.

[00:46:19] I would love for you to learn about my work. Right. There are some Giving Circles that do kind of like by invitation only, or , they will tell you, oh, that’s great that you send us your information. We’ll keep you in mind, right? Mm-hmm. But I, I feel that yes, it’s, it’s, again, it’s people, it’s regular people in your community, so get to know some of the, the members, right?

[00:46:44] Many times after giving grants, I would get a call from the nonprofit leader the day after saying, oh my God, I love that. I want to be part of the Giving Circle. So as a donor, right? Yes. So we had, , it was like coming full circle. We had many nonprofit leaders as part of the Giving Circle and also, , that enriches the Giving Circle so much.

[00:47:09] Yes, yes. Yeah, absolutely. To have that voice of, yes, from the nonprofit perspective. Mm-hmm. And , I think sometimes, , if folks haven’t grown up, , I worked 30 plus years in nonprofits. In fact, I used to work for Larkin Street Youth Center in San Francisco. Mm. I started up their employment and training program, and I know you’re from the Bay Area, so, and if you haven’t worked in nonprofits, you may, I think one, one of the biggest misunderstandings from folks who haven’t worked in the sector.

[00:47:40] Is why things can’t get done faster. Right? Why isn’t this simpler? And yes. Why? Why can’t we just put money to it and, and get somebody working on this? Why can’t we, ? And it’s like, well, if these problems were easy to solve, the, the, the, the, , the business sector, the for-profit sector would’ve monetized it and solved it already.

[00:47:59] Yes. These are generally quite complicated problems and nonprofits have a very diverse set of stakeholders. , that people have, , the organization is, is really responsible too, right? Yes. So, yes. Yeah. But I feel that, , there is such an opportunity right now from all of us, right?

[00:48:21] Regular people, not the billionaires, not the millionaires, us regular people to really, , turn the trend, right? I, I get very. Scared when they talk about, , a crisis of generosity. People are not, , there’s less volunteers every year. It’s like, how can we, that and I feel that it has to be both sides, right?

[00:48:48] Us regular people. Being more aware of what is happening, happening in our communities and, and reaching out to nonprofits, but also nonprofits, , taking the time also to build the relationships. And I know, I know nonprofit leaders that you have 10,000 things to do and, uh, and managing volunteers is hard.

[00:49:11] But again, if you take the time from the, at the beginning and you, , yeah. Nourish those relationships, then you may have a volunteer leader that is going to be, , that is going to be the person that is, , helping with the relationships with other volunteers. Everything, as you said, Tobi, is about relationships.

[00:49:33] Yeah, absolutely. And , if you want to treat a fruit, You gotta spend some time, you’ve gotta find the right place for it. You’ve gotta, , make sure it has the right nutrition, that it’s watered properly, that it’s getting enough sunlight. And if you do all that thing those things, and you take care of that tree, you’re going to have fruit for decades, don’t decades.

[00:49:55] So it makes absolute sense. This has been a fantastic conversation. I am so excited to have, I’m just so happy to have you here. I really appreciate the time you’ve taken out. I know you’re traveling and you’ve got a lot going on, and I, I just think this helps us all think a little bit outside the box, reconsider our paradigms around how we engage the community.

[00:50:17] Think about the latent community capital that’s out there. And I’m not just talking financial, I’m talking all kinds of capital, political, capital, commu, , financial capital, talent, capital. There’s just, there’s so much value in our communities. And I also take to heart that we as community members, and even when we work in nonprofits, we are also in, in our communities.

[00:50:41] That we may need to think differently about our nonprofits as well and, and the challenges they’re facing. So I love this idea of just shaking it up, disrupting a little bit, and in the end, it really is all about people and Totally it’s all about people. And it doesn’t surprise me that Giving Circles, , when you said these aren’t new, they’re not American, and they really are something that people of color have.

[00:51:08] Supported and created and made happen. , way back in the day, I think I said this before we went on, I was part of a, I was invited to be part of a, an artist collective called CAOs. Mm-hmm. Which was in the Pilsen neighborhood of South Near South side in Chicago, which is primarily Mexican immigrant neighborhood.

[00:51:29] And they have Ama, an amazing Mexican museum there and all kinds of things. And we would just grassroots put on like art shows and then people would come up. One of my friends had a deck in the backyard and he, we had a, there was a couple who came from Mexico City who were ballet dancers and they would dance and then people would get on stage and they would read their poetry and then people would come up and play their guitar and, and then in the basement we’d hang artwork and, , , I was a very small part of the whole, I was sort of the, just that small part of the whole collective.

[00:52:01] But people can make amazing things happen with zero infrastructure. Just because they have passion about it. And I think people who have not traditionally had either wealth or infrastructure given to them, they just get creative and they’re like, well,  what? We’re going to do it this way then. ?

[00:52:19] And there is a joy in community building and a joy in making change together. And I think it is one of the ways. Disruptive philanthropy and , collective giving is one way that we can bring communities together. , we have a narrative across, at least in the US we have a narrative of difference in, , otherness and separate and conflict and two sides and all of that.

[00:52:46] And when you think about this type of enterprise, that’s not it at all. And it is, it offers people that opportunity. Even if you’re, if you, even if you don’t believe e, everything the other person believes or vote the same way they become human to you, yes, you can find those values that you have in common and the cause that you can get behind that no matter.

[00:53:09] No matter what. Yeah, absolutely. And I think that might be, Giving Circles might have that, , I don’t know if it’s an intended or unintended consequence, but maybe to start to erase some of those divides that we have in our society. Yes. Or  what? Start talking to each other at least. Yeah. At least.

[00:53:28] At least on that. No, that’s such a great, this has been such a fantastic conversation. We’re going to have to have another one sometime, but yes. What are you most excited about in the year ahead? I like to ask all my guests this question, what am I the most excited about? My God. , I, I always said that I wake up and I have the best, I have the best job in the world because I ha I get to meet new people every single day and I love it.

[00:53:58] Yeah. And , to see the growth of Giving Circles, not only in the US but. All over the world, like, , they are Giving Circles exploding in China, starting to get, , started in Latin America. There’s a lot of Giving Circles in Australia and Canada and Europe. So it’s like, , the amount of good that we can all have.

[00:54:24] Yes. Because again, it’s like we are regular people, but we’re a lot, I mean, we’re a big movement. We’re a lot of regular people. Yeah. Helping local communities. So I am extremely excited to see the growth. And also I was telling you that we’re in the middle of research. So the last research around the landscape research around Giving Circles was done in 2016.

[00:54:46] And we’re repeating that. So actually the survey is going to end at the end of May. It’s open right now, and we’ll have the results in the fall of this year, right? So we’ll know, , how many Giving Circles are around, what are they funding, how do they work? Also, because, , for me, Giving Circles are like mini labs of.

[00:55:10] Civic engagement, right? Yes. When people, same with volunteers. When  about the issues of your community, you get more civical engage overall. So yeah. Yeah. I think there’s a lot of benefit. Well reach out when you have that final report and, and let me know. I’d love to share it with our audience. Um, totally.

[00:55:29] You’ve shared a lot of resources and we will definitely post many in our show notes. Is there anything else you want to mention or how can people get in touch with you if they’re interested in learning more? Definitely we can send folks to your website. Is there anything else you’d like to add? Yeah, no, everything on our website.

[00:55:47] My, my email is on my, on our website. We have a small team, but we’re all across the, the US and, , please engage with us on the YouTube channel, on social media, on the resource library, the trainings, like we would love for you to get started with Giving Circles and, and we’ll help you get there. And find one in your community to join and to take a little taste of it.

[00:56:13] We also have a toolkit for, on our website, for a pop-up given circle, which is a given circle in an hour and a half. So it’s a very good way to give a taste of a given circle, for example, to your volunteers or to your community, and then , then you can decide, okay, now we’re ready to establish a long-term.

[00:56:34] That’s fantastic, Sara

[00:56:47] Thanks everybody else for joining us for this episode of The Volunteer Nation. If you felt it was valuable, I hope you’ll share it with a friend or two, give some inspiration to the world. This has been a fantastic and very inspirational conversation. If you are not ready to, to join a Giving Circle or start one yourself.

[00:57:08] You probably will be after you think about it for 15 minutes or so, and check out your resources. You make it so easy and, and it’s so smart, all the resources you have. So thanks everybody for joining us. We will be here same time, same place next week on the Volunteer Nation. Take care everybody.

[00:57:28] Thanks for listening to this episode of The Volunteer Nation Podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe Brighton Review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause. Bring more tips and notes from the show. Check us out@Tobijohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.