Shifting Gears: How Giving Circles are Adapting to Address COVID-19

Giving circles are one of the fastest growing forms of giving in the U.S., particularly for women and millennials, with now more than 1,600 giving circles currently coming together regularly. As social distancing becomes a norm, nationally, groups are reporting the threat of loss of connectivity among members, concerns of lower member turnout, as well as personal economic insecurity of members as immediate challenges facing giving circles in these uncertain times. The San Diego and Imperial County region enjoys several thriving giving circles as part of its funder ecosystem; we checked in with several of them to see how they are adapting to meet this moment.

To address the highest needs of community partners, Women Give San Diego, a giving circle fiscally sponsored by San Diego Grantmakers, sped up their decision-making process and awarded general operating support grants for the first time in its history.

“Giving circles are about connection: to community and to each other. This means adapting our approaches in new and different ways to maintain connection and to help meet the needs of these extraordinary times,” Sara Vaz, co-President of Women Give San Diego, community relations manager at Nordson Corporation Foundation and board member at San Diego Grantmakers said.

To ensure that their connection to members and to partners remained front and center, they made the decision to go forward with their grant celebration with partners, moving to their first online celebration this past week.

SDG member the San Diego Women’s Foundation has also transitioned to awarding general operating support grants, and are leaning in to trust-based philanthropy methodology, hosting a webinar on the concept for its members and joining SDG and many of its members in recently signing on to the trust-based philanthropy pledge.

The pledge has eight tenants, including:

  • Loosen or eliminate restrictions on current grants
  • Make new grants as unrestricted as possible
  • Reduce what we ask of our nonprofit partners
  • Contribute to community-based emergency response funds
  • Commit to listening to those communities least heard

“By acting together to provide flexibility to our grantee partners, we believe we can help them move their essential work forward powerfully and confidently in this critical moment,” the pledge states.

SDG member Latina Giving Circle changed their entire grant cycle this year to focus on COVID-19 response funds. Normally, they have members vote on which topic they want to fund but bypassed this engagement due to the urgency of the needs presented by COVID-19. The giving circle voted on their grantees last week and will be announcing their grant partners this week.

“A hunger to do more for our communities than we could ever do alone is a driving force of why many of us are involved in giving circles. Business as usual in times that are anything but usual goes against why we come together to begin with,” Melissa Leon, Latina Giving Circle member and San Diego Grantmakers member services coordinator said.

In a hybrid model, SDG member San Diego Social Venture Partners (SVP) members (called Partners) pool their funds and work together to identify high performing organizations that would benefit from an unrestricted grant and highly skilled volunteer support. They recognize that nonprofits and the people they serve are feeling the worst impacts of the COVID 19 health crisis. In response, SVP has recently launched Crisis Response Spark Teams to support nonprofits respond to these changing conditions. Nonprofits will be paired with teams of two SVP member Partners who will help them set priorities for the near and short term and provide ongoing support to deliver against those priorities where possible.

Crisis Response Spark Teams can help with questions like:

  • How do we reduce payroll without cutting core services?
  • How can we adapt our service model for the ongoing impacts of COVID-19?
  • What other sources of revenue may be available?

“Our region needs a strong nonprofit sector now, more than ever – but these organizations are facing a capacity crisis like never before. Mobilizing our member Partners to volunteer for Crisis Response Spark Teams that will support nonprofits to respond to COVID 19 and emerge solidly is one way we are helping to address the urgent and unprecedented needs that our community is facing,” Sierra Visher Kroha, executive director of San Diego Social Venture Partners told us. Nonprofits can request Crisis Response Spark Team support here.

The Giving Compass recently sourced recommendations for how giving circles and other collective giving groups can adapt their approaches, many of which our region’s giving circles have already adopted. They include:

  1. Crowd-source resources, ideas and organizations
  2. Focus on vulnerable populations and past grantees
  3. Support people in your circle
  4. Practice trust-based philanthropy
  5. Think creatively about how to make more resources available
  6. Reconsider how to run your next grant cycle
  7. Host a virtual pop-up giving circle

Read more on their list of recommendations here.

As we all search for ways to dig deeper and individually do more in support of our community through this crisis, tapping into our own networks of relationships and resources can be a powerful action. Whether it is your work colleagues, neighborhood friends, or a formalized giving circle, coming together to do more collectively is one way to amplify our personal impact.

Want more?

  • Read this Wall Street Journal article highlighting San Diego’s Latina Giving Circle
  • Sign on to the Trust-Based Philanthropy Pledge