Jewish Giving Circles: Poised for Growth and Getting More Strategic

 photo:  Rawpixel.com/shutterstock

photo:  Rawpixel.com/shutterstock

We’ve long touted the growing power and influence of giving circles, and it’s not just philanthropic women latching onto this model. Some men’s giving circles have popped up, too. There’s also been a lot of movement within Latino giving circles lately. This comes largely due to community foundations, like the Chicago Community Trust and the San Francisco-based Latino Community Foundation, helping to organize and administer them locally. We've also written about how giving circles can help advance niche causes, looking at this form of fundraising to serve the Asian American LGBTQ community.  

So far, though, we haven't written much about Jewish giving circles. And, as you might expect, there's a lot happening on this front. There’s actually a global network of Jewish giving circles called Amplifier that’s working to strengthen these philanthropic vehicles through educational workshops.

Last month, Amplifier held a two-day retreat in New York City to inaugurate its new Giving Circle Institute. It brought together the leaders of 16 different giving circles, making the trip from 10 states and two countries. The idea to host these types of training sessions emerged after a group of 55 giving circles comprised of 315 members responded to a survey and largely reported that their philanthropic giving was growing. Giving circles sometimes operate as islands, isolated from a larger giving circle community with which to share strategies and swap ideas. But with more gifts flowing, it’s a smart idea to take a step back and make sure money is being used in the best ways possible. 

Amplifier is a great resources for aspiring Jewish philanthropists. The organization has at least 102 giving circles in its network and is comprised of over 3,000 members. For example, participating New York-based giving circles include the Entwine Giving Circle, Atid, and the Challah for Hunger Alumni Giving Circle. 

Something else that has come to light from Amplifier’s research is that giving circle contributions are increasing because members are participating in them longer. One report found that 78 percent of survey participants who participated in a giving circle for four or more years experienced giving increases, compared to 63 percent for people who participated in them between one and three years. In other words, generosity grows with loyalty, and giving circle members seem to get more out of their participation the longer they stick with the group. We also suspect that this is a common trend among many types of giving circles, not just Jewish-oriented ones.

Here’s what the agenda for Jewish giving circle training looks like:

  • Ethical philanthropy practices
  • Strategies for engaging in civil society
  • Finding new avenues for Jewish expression
  • Deepening a sense of community

With greater sums of money to spread around comes greater responsibility, which is where ethics, strategy, and leveraging resources come in. There’s also a big push here to turn giving circle members into community volunteers and advocates for the causes they mutually support. Giving circles seem to have a certain sense of appeal to religious communities because they foster close-knit communities that are familiar, comforting, and spiritually satisfying. When there’s a deep spiritual connection linked to giving circle involvement, members are more likely to keep coming back for many years. 

Amplifier’s executive director, Joelle Berman, said:

We know that giving circles are a powerful, accessible model for intentional philanthropy. Up until now, we’ve helped dozens of leaders launch brand-new giving circles—so how can we help sustain these giving communities and strengthen them over time? The Institute is a new curriculum that will help circle leaders to build resilient, thoughtful experiences for their members. The Institute will equip circle leaders with what they need to make a bigger impact together.

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