Skip to main content

Giving Circles Change Donors’ Giving in Positive and Significant Ways

Resource type: News

Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers |

The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, and the Aspen Institute are Atlantic grantees. OMAHADonors say they give more, give more strategically, and are more knowledgeable about nonprofit organizations and problems in their communities when they participate in giving circles, a new report finds. Giving circles are groups of individuals of all wealth levels and backgrounds who pool their money and other resources and decide together where to give these away. They are often formed by friends or like-minded individuals as a way to be more engaged in the charitable giving process. Past studies have shown that the number of giving circles has exploded across the country and that they are an established philanthropic force. Giving circles can have a big impact on their members and on communities in these difficult economic times. The new research report focusing on donors’ philanthropic and civic behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes was released today by the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. The study, The Impact of Giving Together (available online at examines for the first time, in a more comprehensive and quantitative manner, the impact of giving circles on members’ giving and civic engagement. It included a survey of 587 current and past giving circle members and a control group, interviews, and participant observations. Among the findings: Giving circle members say they give more, give to a greater number of organizations, and give in more strategic ways than other donors. Giving circles increase members’ knowledge about philanthropy, nonprofits, and community needs. Giving circle members are more likely than other donors to give to organizations serving women and girls, ethnic and minority groups, and for arts, culture and ethnic awareness. Giving circle members are less likely than other donors to give to federated or combined giving funds (such as the United Way) and to religious organizations. Giving circle members are highly engaged in their communities. The more engaged members are within a giving circle, the more likely they are to say that they have increased the amount of time they volunteer. As length of time in the giving circle increases, the more members are likely to participate in the various activities of the giving circle. Those with higher levels of engagement within a giving circle are more likely to say that they increased their level of community participation and their involvement in changing government policies. These findings resonate with my experience in the Omaha Venture Group, Hillary Nather-Detisch, one of the giving circle’s founding members, said. Some members have gotten more engaged with local nonprofits-several members joining boards or giving to organizations beyond the group-and some tell me their giving has increased since joining the group. I definitely feel like I understand a lot more about what is going on in our community. We hope that our research will educate the philanthropic community about the beneficial effects of giving circles and the factors that influence these effects, Angela Eikenberry, one of the project’s lead investigators from UNO’s School of Public Administration, said. The study’s results are important as well because they show that giving circles play a powerful role in informing members about how nonprofit organizations operate and the value nonprofits contribute to a community. This study and previous research also show that local nonprofits benefit from giving circle funding and other resources because most giving circles provide support to nonprofits in their community. Donors or potential donors who are looking for a way to be more engaged with their communities or who want to be more strategic with their giving may want to consider starting or joining a giving circle. OVG was started to encourage young professionals to make a difference in smaller, grassroots nonprofit agencies that are vital to the community, said Nather-Detisch. Giving circles may be particularly relevant in these tough economic times because donors can leverage their donations with others to have a greater impact on causes they care about. Jessica Bearman, an independent consultant and the project’s other lead investigator, said, We knew that people join giving circles to make a difference in their communities. Now we know that giving circles really have an impact on members’ giving, knowledge, and civic participation. For more information about the study and how to start a giving circle, go the Forum’s Giving Circles Knowledge Center at: The site includes this new report, how-to resources on the nuts and bolts of starting a giving circle, tools and models for hosting giving circles, and profiles of circles across the nation. This research was funded in part by the Aspen Institute Nonprofit Sector and Philanthropy program. About the University of Nebraska at Omaha The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The celebration recognizes the partnership among the City of Omaha, its citizens and UNO to build a vibrant and dynamic community. The centennial theme is UNO: Central To Our City Since 1908. This theme acknowledges the past contributions of UNO to the community and sets the stage for great things to come. UNO, inaugurated in 1968, emerged from the Municipal University of Omaha, established in 1931, which grew out of the University of Omaha founded in 1908. For Centennial information, go to About the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers The Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers is a national network of local leaders and organizations across the United States that supports effective charitable giving. For more information, visit About the Center on Philanthropy The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University is a leading academic center dedicated to increasing the understanding of philanthropy and improving its practice worldwide through research, teaching, training and public affairs programs in philanthropy, fundraising, and management of nonprofit organizations. For more information, visit