On the informal side, circles may vote and choose an organization to support and each member writes an individual check.
Formal circles may have their money housed at a local community foundation and have staff that support the work of the circle.
Giving circles can range in size from a handful of members to several hundred.
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In a 2007 study, the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers' New Ventures in Philanthropy initiative identified approximately 400 giving circles in the United States, more than double the number from two years earlier.
A survey of 160 circles, published in 2008, found they had leveraged nearly $100 million, $13 million of this in 2006 alone.
Nearly 12,000 people took part in the 160 giving circles surveyed.
Nearly half of circles have male participants, and the popularity of giving circles is also growing among racial, ethnic and tribal communities as well as in the gay and lesbian community. Eikenberry, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, found that giving circles generally bring both long-time and new philanthropists to organized philanthropy.
For both groups, participation seems to increase levels of giving while bringing “new money” to the nonprofit sector; especially to small and locally based organizations.
Members also seem to learn about and give to organizations and individuals, and in areas of interest, they most likely would not have given to otherwise.
In addition, members are more thoughtful, focused and strategic in their personal giving because of educational experiences in the giving circle.
A giving circle is a form of participatory philanthropy where groups of individuals donate their own money or time to a pooled fund, decide together where to give these away to charity or community projects and, in doing so, seek to increase their awareness of and engagement in the issues covered by the charity or community project.
The current manifestation of giving circles is a relatively new trend, but it is built on old traditions dating back hundreds of years to mutual aid societies and other forms of giving for the community.