By Sharon Stewart, Anne Arundel Women Giving Together
As foundation leaders, we all have a vested interest in growing philanthropy in our communities. Every day we see the need for a more fully involved community.
One tool for growing philanthropy and developing leaders is giving circles, a collective form of philanthropy where members pool funds and make grants to charities. Giving circles have seen phenomenal growth nationally and are a way to get more people involved in grantmaking and learning about local community needs.
One of my most exciting ventures was helping to start Anne Arundel Women Giving Together (AAWGT), a 200-member women’s giving circle based in Annapolis, MD and a fund of the Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County. Since its founding in 2006, I have seen an incredible growth in philanthropy in our community. How do giving circles make this kind of growth happen?
Here are some examples from AAWGT of how we develop philanthropic leaders:
- Our members learn grantmaking skills by reviewing proposals, conducting site visits, managing the detailed grants process for member voting, and conducting follow-up visits and evaluation with grantees.
- We hold 3-5 educational events each year, where members learn from community-based experts about issues such as domestic violence, aging, and homelessness. We frequently hear our members say things like, “I never knew this was going on in our community,” or “I feel so much more informed about the nonprofit community.”
- We provide members with opportunities for leadership development by serving as officers or committee chairs and participating in an annual retreat that focuses on leadership development, planning, and evaluation.
- One of our annual signature events is our Women & Leadership Forum, which features speakers who talk about leadership issues as well as philanthropy and giving circles.
- We also are fortunate to be a part of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, where we have regular opportunities to take part in networking and an annual giving circle workshop that brings together area giving circles for sharing and learning opportunities.
So what can you as a foundation leader do? Here are some ideas: 1) get involved in your local giving circle (or help start one if you don’t have one in your community), and 2) look for ways to work with your local giving circle such as partnering on grantmaking, co-hosting community educational events, and working together to provide grantee training and other resources.
The result is more engaged philanthropists – serving on boards, setting up their own foundations or funds at a community foundation, more targeted giving, and more people having fun working together to make their community a better place.
Sharon Stewart is the founder and past president of Anne Arundel Women Giving Together. She has spent the past 12 years as an independent consultant, working with foundations and nonprofit organizations to help them develop their governance, marketing, and business strategies. She previously worked at the Council on Foundations, Independent Sector, and a small family foundation in Washington, DC. For additional giving circle resources, see Association of Baltimore Grantmakers and the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers.