Giving circles are groups of donors who study a cause, then pick charities they feel best address their issue(s) and combine their giving to those organization. (More about giving circles here at Wikipedia and they were examined last year on this blog at How donors empower themselves.)
Blackbaud's BlogBaud takes a look at them with some alarm at Giving Circles May Ultimately Hurt Non Profits:
... giving circles make it hard for nonprofits to get access to individuals, where connections and real relationships are built. It's through these personal relationships we build with volunteers and donors that our organizations grow, and how we "move" donors through a variety of stages, ultimately to a place where they are sincerely engaged in what we do. Giving circles take away our access to the individual and limit the interactions we can have at a one-to-one level.
True. Giving circles can separate us from some very involved and conscious donors -- just the kind you want.
But really, there's not much we can do about it. If donors choose this way of giving, they hold all the cards. (And I bet if a giving circle donor were reading this, she'd probably say, Your so-called "real relationships" are just unwanted junkmail to me!)
So rather than pointlessly speak out against giving circles, we can learn to live with them. Here are two ways:
- Make individual donor relationship so cool, people don't want to lose it. When someone joins a giving circle, they take control. They only get the mail they want. They only hear about the causes they care about. Plus they get to hang out with like-minded people. How many nonprofit direct-mail programs can compete with that? Your could be one of the few, if you're willing to make it that way.
- Market specifically to giving circles. Book publishers market reading circles, going as far as including reading circle discussion guides in books. It works for them, and it could for you. Create material that's useful for groups to read, share, discuss, and take action on.
Giving circles are a challenge to our old way of raising funds. But reality-based fundraising can work with them, not against them.
(Read also this post on giving circles at Tactical Philanthropy.)