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What's your image of a philanthropist? Is it someone who's wealthy? Is it a man or a woman? The findings of a new study might surprise you. It shows more women, people of color and the younger generation becoming donors, and they're doing so using giving circles. That's when people pool their money and give together. The Greater Kalamazoo area is part of the upswing in women-led giving circles.
On today's WestSouthwest news and public affairs show, we talk to representatives from three local giving circles as well as to Jason Franklin, who co-authored the new study, "The Landscape of Giving Circles/Collective Giving Groups." Franklin is the W.K. Kellogg Chair for Community Philanthropy at the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University.
Why the growth?
Franklin says a big driving force in the increased participation of people of color are efforts by community foundations and that of philanthropic groups serving this demographic, such as the Community Investment Network, to widen the audiences involved in charitable giving.
But Franklin sees another huge factor at play for the overall spike in giving circles: A need to connect with others.
"In this moment where we're living in the most digitally connected and yet psychologically isolating moment in modern history, what we hear from a lot of people who started giving circles is that they started them or joined them because they wanted to connect with other people," Franklin says.
"They wanted to be able to give together, not just by themselves. They want to learn what's going on in their community. So I think it's really a response to people trying to find connection."
Nationally, there are 1,838 independent giving circles and chapters, says Franklin of GVSU's Johnson Center for Philanthropy, citing "The Landscape of Giving Circles" report released in fall 2017.
Tracking the exact number of giving circles, however, is tough because they can be informal in nature.
Of the giving circles researchers did find, the total has tripled since 2007, the last time the report was done, according to Franklin. The majority are housed at community foundations or public charities, like the United Way.
And the data shows women make up 70 percent of the members of giving circles.
Women lead the trend
One of the Kalamazoo area's larger, women-led circles is Women Who Care of Kalamazoo County, with 165 members who give $100 apiece to a different charity at each of their quarterly meetings.
Since founding in 2013, it has distributed more than $400,000 to nonprofits from members' individual gifts and their employers' matching funds, says co-founder and Kalamazoo estate planning attorney Danielle Streed.
Women Who Care of Kalamazoo County is affiliated with a group originally established in Jackson in 2006, which has since ballooned to 200-plus chapters worldwide, Streed says.
Streed started the Kalamazoo County chapter with Patti Owens and Nancy Troff. She says they have inspired the formation of at least four chapters.
And that's just the ones they know of.
Just this year, two African-American women, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts Executive Director Belinda Tate and State Farm agent Sabrina Pritchett-Evans, launched their own giving circle called Tendaji, also influenced by the Women Who Care, of which they are members. Tendaji means "makes things happen" in Swahili.
Tate and Pritchett-Evans say the group will issue grants once a year. The first grant competition was in August. The winning two nonprofits shared over $20,000 in funding, made up of $1,000 from each Tendaji member.
Men plan women spin-off
But while most giving circle members are women, it's shifting, slowly. The new giving-circles report, which updates decade-old figures to provide a more current understanding of the explosion of collective giving and the varied models, indicate that men are a small, yet growing presence.
In 2017, for instance, Guys Who Give - Kalamazoo County formed. The organization, which has been successful in attracting young members, another phenomenon in giving circles, started with 18 members and has risen to 90, says co-founder and president Cody Livingston, a marketing and advertising professional for the MLive Media Group.
In their inaugural year, the men, which donate $100 per person each quarter, gave out $27,000 to the community. Livingston says the hope is to donate $40,000 annually. Guys Who Give is one of six chapters of a Colorado-based giving circle that Livingston's brother, Justin, created about three years ago.
Livingston says his brother plans a spin-off group for women to be called Gals Who Give.
COMING SOON: A feature story about giving circles airing on Morning Edition and All Things Considered on NPR/WMUK 102.1 FM.
Check out longer versions of the aired interviews below: