Giving Circles Turn Small Individual Gifts Into Large Collective Grants

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Luminaria volunteer Alyssa Danna walks with a lit globe asking for donations. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A volunteer asks for donations funding a local arts group in San Antonio.

San Antonio is widely known for its generous spirit.

The nation watched as we opened our doors and created emergency shelters for approximately 25,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees in 2005. Many of these New Orleans residents stayed, and we welcomed them to make San Antonio their home.

The citywide annual Fiesta celebration is another example of this generous spirit. Every year, San Antonio turns into one giant open house, welcoming more than 700,000 visitors from across the state, nation, and world to join us as we celebrate our history, heritage, and culture.  

This generous spirit also can be seen in our city’s growing list of leading philanthropists. These major donors, along with San Antonio’s 40 different charitable foundations, enrich our community and improve the quality of life for many. Philanthropists like Bill Greehey, who donated $5 million to help found Haven for Hope and improve our city’s approach to helping the homeless. Susan Naylor’s Will Smith Foundation made a $7 million contribution toward the renovation of the Witte Museum. Computer executive Harvey Najim gave $5 million to ChildSafe.

But you do not have to be a CEO of a major corporation, the owner of a business, or head of a large family foundation to make a difference. Collective giving circles, or collective giving grant-making groups, are empowering donors to join together to achieve meaningful change through substantial grants to local nonprofits that serve our communities. It is estimated that collective giving circles have given roughly $1.3 billion to charitable causes since their inception, according to the Collective Giving Research Group.

In the United States, giving circles are changing the face of community philanthropy. A recent report from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute describes the increasing influence of giving circles, which have tripled in number in the U.S. during the past 10 years. Women are the key to the growth in collective giving. They dominate giving circle membership, making up 70 percent of all members. Increasingly, giving circles have become the point of entry for women in charitable giving.

San Antonio is home to one of the largest giving circles in the country, Impact San Antonio. Established in 2004, Impact San Antonio has awarded more than $3.2 million in grants to support the important work of nonprofits. Individual membership contributions are combined into significant grants for nonprofits serving the greater San Antonio area. In 2018, Impact San Antonio had more than 500 members. These women each donate at least $1,000 a year, which allows Impact San Antonio to award five $100,000 grants to nonprofits.

To effect positive change in our community, San Antonio’s social service, educational, environmental, and cultural nonprofit groups provide assistance to individuals and families and they improve the quality of our lives. In addition to meeting urgent family needs, these organizations offer change and hope and educate and enrich the community.

Nonprofits submit grant proposals to Impact San Antonio for review and volunteers review the proposals in five focus areas: Arts and Culture; Education; Environment, Recreation, and Preservation; Family; and Health and Wellness. Finalists are presented to the general membership on Grant Award Night where members vote to select the grant recipients each fall.

With these substantial grants, nonprofits can implement projects that are truly transformational. Children’s Association for Maximum Potential (CAMP) was awarded a $100,000 high-impact grant to build a new wastewater treatment plant in 2013. The upgrade in infrastructure was a game changer for CAMP and paved the way for expansion and growth. The grant helped leverage plans to build new facilities that support their most medically fragile campers and a new health care center to better serve children and adults with special needs in San Antonio, South Texas, and beyond.  

An Impact San Antonio award is recognized as a significant grant, which speaks to its democratic funding process and the organization’s ability to identify and address the critical issues in our community. Giving circles and collective giving groups hold enormous potential for broad outreach, flexible and authentic engagement of donors, and a more democratic approach to building a culture of philanthropy.

As a long-time nonprofit consultant in San Antonio, I have seen a shift in philanthropic giving in our community. The emergence of collective giving circles has enabled people to think of themselves as philanthropists, no matter their wealth level. Community members who see an issue that needs to be addressed no longer have to sit on the sidelines. By participating in this simple but powerful giving model, they can make something happen. The experience is empowering.

2 thoughts on “Giving Circles Turn Small Individual Gifts Into Large Collective Grants

  1. Thank you, Rose Mary, for all of your efforts on behalf of San Antonio’s non-profits. It is through examples like you and myriad others, as well as through the Giving Circle efforts you described, that San Antonio’s beautiful heart will continue for generations. Thank you!

  2. Bravo to “Giving Circles.” Unfortunately, even the largest private donations are mere rounding errors when contrasted with government largess. Example: Even before Trump’s trillion dollar tax give away, the federal government borrowed and spent the equivalent of Warren Buffett’s lifetime earnings about every 22 days.

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