How philanthropy is becoming more democratic and inclusive

Olympian Amy Williams MBE at the launch event for the Bath Women's Fund

Guest Bloggers | 15 October 2019

Isobel Michael talks about the growth of giving circles and what this shows about how philanthropy is becoming more democratic, and how an increasing number of people are becoming philanthropists.

At a time when research has indicated that levels of participation in giving to charity is falling, the revolution in giving that started in the US is building momentum here in the UK. ‘Collective giving’ brings people together to achieve a greater impact by pooling resources and deciding collectively on how to award their funds.

The Collective Giving Research Group found that funds distributed through collective giving in the US tripled in America between 2007 and 2017. The most popular model is a giving circle, which democratise philanthropy – everyone gives at the same level and has equal voice in deciding how the circle’s charitable contributions are awarded. While doing so, donors connect with one another, learn about need in their communities and how to help.

In her own research into the subject, Dr Beth Breeze defines giving circles as ”groups of individuals who donate money and/or time and have a say in the distribution of these resources”.

This significant growth of giving circles in the US is linked, in part, to increased philanthropy from women, who tend to be more attracted to collective models. They are growing in wealth and having more control over their money.

“Giving Circles are a great way to combine generosity with sociability. They bring more benefits to both donors and recipients than traditional methods for making donations. Donors learn more about the causes they are supporting, meet others who share their philanthropic outlook, and have greater impact because they are combining their contributions with others."
Dr Beth Breeze, Director of the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent

I witnessed the growth of giving circles whilst living in Australia for five years and was inspired by my experience of Melbourne Women’s Fund representing one of three charities pitching to a room full of engaged and informed philanthropists for their Signature Grant in 2016.

When I returned to live in Bath the following year, I connected again with Emma Beeston, an experienced Philanthropy Advisor based in Bristol and, together, we decided to look at whether the giving circle model could thrive here. The response was very positive with the local MP, Wera Hobhouse, Bath’s first female MP, who is fully backing the project. Wera spoke at the successful launch event for the Bath Women’s Fund in October 2018 alongside other inspiring local women including Olympians Amy Williams MBE and Sharron Davies MBE.

Bath Women’s Fund is volunteer-led and hosted by St John’s Foundation, a local charitable foundation, which manages the funds and grant making at no cost, enabling all funds donated by members to be awarded as grants. We started recruiting members in 2019 and together will decide on the first grant-making theme by the end of this year so we can award the first grant in 2020.

Other giving circles are growing across the UK. You can either join an existing local fund or you can connect with others to start a new circle and help grow giving. The best way to learn about philanthropy and your local community is to get involved directly, whatever your capacity to give.

70% giving circles majority women

Collective giving is helping to change the face of philanthropy. Around 70% of giving circles are majority-women and 60% are created around an identity – including groups based on gender, race, age and religion, research by the Collective Giving Research Group shows. New research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) reveals that women’s fund and foundation donors stand out as they give more to charity and are more likely to:

  • give at capacity to women’s and girls’ causes
  • give while they are still active in the workforce
  • see themselves as activist donors and philanthropic leaders



WPI’s Women Give 2019 report explored the intersection of race, giving and gender and found that generosity is a value shared by all communities. Women from diverse backgrounds are leading through philanthropy and you can read some of their stories by searching for #IAmAPhilanthropist.

Other collective giving models include micro-granting schemes such as SOUPs – a micro-granting dinner event which brings people together to support local projects, where for example “£5 gets you soup, salad, bread and a vote” – and The Funding Network, which engages potential donors in live crowdfunding to learn about and support grassroots organisations driving social change, a project that started live in the UK and has since become a global movement.

 The government recognised the potential of encouraging more collective giving in the 2018 Civil Society Strategy and has so far focused on growing Place-Based Giving with grants to support six local giving schemes, including Bristol City Funds, Stoke Giving Bank and Yorkshire Coast Catalyst. We hope that they will also recognise the value of volunteer-led giving circles, often created around an identity, to help grow and diversify giving across the UK.

Collective giving enables people with fewer resources to participate in philanthropy and supporting their local community. Supporting and encouraging collective giving in your community will help grow giving as well as build your networks, understanding and experience of philanthropy. Join us, help change the face of philanthropy and enjoy the power of giving collectively.

Isobel Michael co-founded the Bath Women’s Fund and is a Trustee at the Institute of Fundraising.


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