Giving Circles: Is There a New Source of Funding in Your Neighborhood?


As you can imagine, here at GrantStation we get a lot of questions about funding research, and two of the most prevalent questions are: “Where can I find start-up funds?” and “We don’t have much time to spend on grantwriting. How can I find funders who have an easy application process?”

More and more the answer we give to both of these questions is simply: Check out giving circles in your region.

What are giving circles?

Wikipedia says “giving circles can be small and informal, something like a neighborly potluck, with a few people pooling their money and giving it to a chosen charity. Alternatively, they can be highly organized, require contributions of thousands of dollars and a commitment of many years.”

According to Angela Eikenberry, a professor at University of Nebraska, Omaha and a well-known researcher of giving circles both in the U.S. and internationally, “While giving circles come in many shapes and sizes, their key attribute is that members decide on which organizations they want to support collectively, engaging each other in discussions and decision-making and taking direct responsibility for grantmaking and running the group. In this sense, they form a more democratic, grassroots-based, bottom-up alternative to conventional top-down philanthropy.”

And it appears that giving circles tend to make grants to less traditional organizations. According to a study done by Elkenberry a few years ago, “Compared to givers not in a giving circle, members gave more often to groups that support women and ethnic and minority groups. They also favored the arts, culture, the environment, neighborhood development, advocacy, and international aid. Their giving was less ‘traditional’ than usual for donors.”

Three examples

Let me share a few examples to give you a better idea of how a giving circle works. The Beehive Collective is a giving circle that awards grants to nonprofit organizations working toward making Raleigh, NC, a better place. Each year the Beehive Collective provides a large grant ranging up to $30,000 to a nonprofit organization that addresses the current year's theme. The theme for 2017 is health and healthcare. In addition, a small grant ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 is also provided when funds allow. This grant typically focuses on women's empowerment issues.

The Cherry Blossom Giving Circle is committed to creating positive change in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities of the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. Grants are provided to nonprofit organizations that help improve the lives of members of AAPI communities who work, live, or study in the region. These grants range from $500 to $4,000 and are available for both project support and general operating support.

Three Corners Women’s Giving Circle is dedicated to effecting change for women and girls in the “three corners” region of northwest Arizona; Mesquite, NV; and southern Utah. These grants are awarded to nonprofit organizations for projects that support women and girls in the areas of safety and health, education, and economic advancement and leadership. Grants support local nonprofit organizations that offer creative and promising programs to empower women and girls to reach their full potential.

Can an organization find start-up funds?

Yes, there are definitely start-up funds nestled in these giving circles. For example, the Chinook Fund, which is really a hybrid between a community foundation and a giving circle, provides grants to community organizations working on issues of social and economic justice in the state of Colorado. They specifically state that they give start-up grants up to $4,000. But, it is often important to actually know someone who is an active participant in the giving circle if you are to secure start-up funds.

Is the application process easier?

Unfortunately, the answer is both yes and no.

For those giving circles that give larger awards the process can be just as difficult as applying to a foundation. For example, Impact 100 Greater Indianapolis members pool their $1,000 annual donations to fund large grants of $100,000. And their application process mirrors the standard routine of submitting a letter of inquiry, then a full request, followed by a site visit before an award is made.

However, many other giving circles, such as the Cherry Blossom Giving Circle, have an exceedingly simple application process. In fact, Cherry Blossom describes their application this way: Our application is the same simplified one from last year, so we hope that it will be easy for you to apply for a grant.

Where can you find giving circles?

GrantStation takes great pride in providing a comprehensive, high quality profiles of current funders. So if you are a Member of GrantStation you can do most of your giving circle research using our database. However, if you are not a member of GrantStation, try asking your regional community foundation if they know of any giving circles in your area. They often know all about them!


We have had a lot of interest in this topic so we wanted to post a few helpful hints on how you can look up giving circles within GrantStation.

Once you log into GrantStation:

  • Visit the U.S. Charitable Database
  • On the right hand side in the criteria area to Type of Grantmaker
  • In the criteria on the right-hand side, select Giving Circle beneath Type of Grantmaker
Giving Circle

The results will show all of the giving circles that we currently have profiled.

This is a quickly growing area, as Cindy mentioned, and it is one that GrantStation is actively incorporating into our database.

Some of the ways you might find those in your area are to search Facebook. Many communities have a citizens group where you could ask for leads on these types of organizations. Also try contacting your local nonprofit or philanthropy association to see if they can offer any help. Many Community Foundations also host giving circles, so they should always check with their regional community foundation too.

If you are unable to find a giving circle that aligns with your purpose or location, our research staff has unearthed some excellent resources to augment your research:

We hope this helps you find the funding you need, and over time, our giving circle listings will only grow!

Action steps you can take today
  • Acquaint yourself with how giving circles work by reading The Impact of Giving Together, a report which explores the influence of giving circles on philanthropic and civic behaviors, knowledge, and attitudes.
  • Identify the giving circles that operate in your region.
  • Acquaint yourself with the people involved in giving circles in your region.