Collective giving

Collective giving is an accessible way for anyone to join with others to pool resources to fund social change.

Philanthropy often has to confront the hardy cliché that it’s an activity conducted by only a few wealthy individuals or families. But more recently, there has been a growing call to democratise and diversify philanthropy. And one of the drivers of this change is collecting giving.

Collective giving is the coming together of individuals or foundations to jointly fund social change. It offers additional benefits to participants through networking and peer support, but also provides learning opportunities in the funding arena and may extend to volunteering and pro-bono service provision.

The two most common approaches in Australia are Collective Funding events and Giving Circles. Both models can provide a useful starting point for those new to philanthropy.

Collective funding

Collective funding, sometimes referred to as crowd funding, is when a for-purpose organisation pitches to an identified audience, who then pledge their financial support. This is often matched by host organisations. When COVID-19 lockdowns restricted people’s movements, this model flourished by shifting to online delivery. No longer restricted by venue capacity, audience numbers and donations rose significantly.

This model has been popular with corporates, forming part of their Corporate Social Responsibility offering through matching donations made at the event. It provides a forum to engage with staff and support the issues that are important to them. This model has been particularly popular and effective in the social enterprise sector.

The Funding Network is the largest collective giving model in Australia. They provide public in-person or online crowdfunding events and capacity building services and workshops.

GiveOUT (formerly known as The Channel Giving Circle) has distributed over $1 million to over 100 LGBTIQ+ organisations. It has evolved from the traditional Giving Circle model, having brought GiveOUT Day to Australia in 2019 and setting up the Amplify Pride Fund in 2022.

Giving circles

In contrast, a giving circle is a group of people with shared values who come together to create change by pooling their individual donations and then jointly deciding how and where the funds will be distributed. This model of giving has been prominent in the USA since the late 1990s, only emerging in Australian philanthropy since 2011. While initially adopting the traditional model, Australian Giving Circles have forged their own development path in response to cultural, social, economic, and historical influences.

The US-based giving circles’ advocate, Sarah Lomelin, in her TED Talk gives those engaged with giving circles an “invitation to disrupt philanthropy”. Sarah sees the power of this form of giving to usher in a new era of philanthropy, describing the process of giving in this way as “joyful, transformative, collaborative and intentional”. You can listen to her TED Talk about the Peninsula Latina Giving Circle here.

There are now many giving circles across Australia varying in size and purpose. Below are some examples of a few Australian giving circles, but there will be many more not listed:

Giving Circles at Work is a service offered by Good2Give on their workplace giving platform. Groups of employees who share a common interest come together from across the organisation to form a Giving Circle. They pool their funds via the workplace giving platform and potentially these can be matched by the employer. The benefits of Giving Circles at Work are that they help develop enhanced relationships with work colleagues, increase knowledge and understanding of the cause being supported and help develop communication, decision making and teamwork skills. This can lead to more satisfied, engaged and motivated employees, and help organisations fulfil their social responsibility to the community.

  • Impact 100: this is a model that has been replicated globally which brings at least 100 people together, each donating $1,000 and then jointly deciding where the funds will be distributed. In Australia, there are chapters in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania.
  • Women & Change: this is Queensland’s first Giving Circle, set up in 2014 and in 2021 reached a milestone of over half a million dollars donated by members to charities supporting the most vulnerable Queenslanders.
  • Groundswell: A giving platform for climate action, Groundswell pools money from passionate people to fund strategic, high-impact climate advocacy in Australia.
  • The Melbourne Women’s Fund was also set up in 2014 and has grown to be a thriving network supporting vulnerable women and families in Melbourne. It enables its ‘members to be part of informed, democratised giving where their power is amplified through the collective benefit they provide to vulnerable women and families in Melbourne’.
  • WELA Giving Circle has a vision is for a world transformed by women leading change. 50% of the money they raise is granted to women’s environmental and climate action through their Small Grants Program, and 50% supporting WELA’s groundbreaking leadership programs.

How to set up a Giving Circle

  1. You can start small, you don’t need large numbers to start a Giving Circle, but a few passionate and motivated people with shared values and common interests to get things started.
  2. Once established, you can start to grow your membership, but it’s important that you agree on what your aspirations for the Giving Circle are and how you will structure yourself to achieve these.
  3. Plan to meet regularly and in the early stages, establish your mission, goals and the outcomes you hope to achieve. Share the responsibilities between members, and if necessary, create sub-groups to take responsibility for specific tasks.
  4. Each member will contribute equally, although some groups may offer lower contributions to attract younger members. Funds will need to be managed responsibly and transparently and this can be done through a variety of structures: Directly to a for-purpose organisation
    Via a workplace giving scheme
    Pool funds in a donor advised fund with a community foundation
  5. Take the time to explore and discuss the issues with the Giving Circle members, making sure that you do your due diligence on the organisations that you propose to support. People will have differing views and compromise may be necessary.

The beauty of Giving Circles is that they come in all sizes, from a small book-club style to a more formal organisation with CEO and volunteer committees. The benefits of joining a Giving Circle go way beyond simply donating to a good cause. The opportunity to meet new people and develop networks, to learn about issues and the granting cycle, and potentially volunteer or provide pro-bono services make Giving Circle membership such a unique and fulfilling experience.

Section researched from sources including Australians Investing In Women.