Sunday, July 16, 2017

Giving Circles and the Arts

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on...................................."

A decade or so ago, Giving Circles (loose aggregations of small groups of people - more often than not friends or business colleagues - that pooled small amounts of money and, as a group, determined where to allocate the funds) started to gain prominence in philanthropy, and portended to grow to be a major factor in charitable giving.  These pools of funds allowed individuals to increase the impact of their otherwise limited giving, and, in the process, allowed people to become more involved in their communities and with each other.

Because of the attractiveness of involvement, networking and impact, the phenomenon grew, and today there are likely thousands of such groups of varying levels all around the country. There hasn't been substantial research on the numbers of such circles since their early launch, and, while there are a couple of aggregation groups that seek to identify some of these groups under common banners, those efforts are extremely limited.  So we don't exactly know how many of these groups exist, the dollar total of their giving, nor where the money substantially goes.  We don't know if that number is growing or not and to what extent, as we don't know how many new Circles launch each year, and how many existing Circles cease to be.   Moreover, all these Circles will be populated by different demographic groups and the age, education, income level, jobs, geographic location and more variables will play into how individual Circles operate.

Is the potential of Giving Circles in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, or more?  Will Giving Circles ever reach, or surpass, the giving of Crowdfunding, or foundations?  Open questions, the answers to which are important - for the whole nonprofit universe.

Very likely, there are some of these groups that allocate some of their funding to arts groups, though it is unlikely that the percentage of the total of such funds is very high.  If you have a dozen or so friends who, say, each contribute $1000 per year to a Giving Circle, perhaps one or more of those people favor support for the arts, and thus maybe a percentage of the total pot of that group might go to the arts in a given territory in any given year.

If Giving Circles represent a large (and maybe growing) potential source of funding (and that is an open question), the challenges are:  1) how do the arts (as a sector) make the case for some portion of these groups allocating their funding (or percentage thereof) to the arts (in general); and how do individual arts organizations work to actually become recipients of these kinds of gifts; and 2) Is it possible to create and sponsor new Giving Circles that give most, or all, of their funding to  the arts?

On the first issue, it is very hard for an individual arts organization to even identify where there are Giving Circles that might potentially consider them as recipients, let alone who such groups are.  Individual organizations simply don't have the resources or time to address that challenge.   And that information doesn't appear to be easily accessed.  What might be helpful would be for someone on a national level to tackle the problem of identifying existing Giving Circles and how they might be contacted.  That will remain difficult, as only those Giving Circles that have expanded their membership and the total of their funding pool to the point where they have affiliated with a Community Foundation as a donor advised fund may be easily identified (and that number has to be very small, particularly as growing to that level somewhat defeats the original intent of the Giving Circle phenomenon as being small, intimate and offering its members hands on participation in the consideration of which organizations to support).  It would take a major effort, even in siloed individual territories, to compile an accurate listing of Giving Circles.  Compounding the problem is the likelihood that Giving Circles may operate for a limited period of time, then cease to exist.  We just don't know.  The information would be valuable to have - and not just to the arts sector, but to the entire nonprofit universe, and it remains a major effort for the entire nonprofit community.

But to the extent that it is possible to begin to identify specific Giving Circles, or approach the field of such Circles in a given territory, we would still need an arts sector-wide strategy to facilitate approaching them, whereby we prepare case making materials that urge Circles to consider the value of supporting the arts, both to be used in a generic sense as we make the case to Circles in general, and as individual arts organizations might make the case to specific Circles.

On the second issue of how to encourage the formation of Giving Circles that are essentially exclusively vested in supporting the arts, we again need the case making materials, and, further, we need to develop strategies to recruit and enlist potential donors to launch such Circles -- either as generic supporters of the arts in general, or as supporters of specific individual arts organizations.  One place to start, might be within the lists of strong individual arts supporters that already anchor support locally for specific organizations.  We might be able to recruit some of these people to go the extra step of forming Giving Circles.  Or, we might approach various workplaces, civic groups, parent organizations, seniors, military veterans, hospitals or whatever.  Thus, if a tool-kit, with a power point presentation, bullet point material, open letters etc., touting the value of the arts, arts education, arts and seniors, arts and healing, arts and the military, and so on were available, arts groups in any given location could use that to encourage new Giving Circles to form that focused on the arts.  Fertile recruitment might exist in local PTA's, AARP chapters, Veterans groups, medical groups and hospitals and more.  Perhaps, local arts agencies could be the beneficiaries of grants that would allow them to make such forays into their local communities on behalf of local arts organizations.

To be sure, tapping into the Giving Circle wing of current philanthropy, will depend on a sector wide effort, first in identifying, then in the education of, extant Circles,  coupled with media coverage of consideration of arts specific Circles.  This will likely take at least regional, and more ideally, national funding support by the arts to tackle the challenge on a field wide basis, from which progress, development of materials, and best practices can help individual arts organizations make the case for their funding from Giving Circles.  It might be easier in the short run to promote, encourage and nurture the creation of new Giving Circles that focused primarily on the arts than in targeting existing Circles.   This kind of effort is really part of the larger effort to move public will towards the valuation of the arts across the board.

The point is that the Giving Circle wing of philanthropy may be substantial (though we don't know for sure), and that we need then to find ways to effectively tap into it for the future.  And if it is a substantial source of funding, the these questions are worth some consideration.

Have a nice week.

Don't Quit
Barry

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