News and analysis
December 30, 2014

Jewish Group Launches Website to Assist ‘Giving Circle’ Movement

Photo by Sophie Gindea/Courtesy of Challah for Hunger

Challah for Hunger, an organization that brings college students together to bake and sell challah to raise money and awareness for social-justice causes, is one of the 40 organizations that have joined Amplifier.

The Natan Fund, a Jewish giving circle based in New York City, has launched a website and resource library to help potential philanthropists join the growing movement of collaborative charity in small groups.

Launched in September, Amplifier: The Jewish Giving Circle Movement, has more than 40 member organizations. Its creators set their goal at attracting another 50 in 2015.

Giving circles are formed by individual donors with common interests, often civic or religious, and are most popular among women, minorities, and donors under 40. Participants pool their charitable contributions and decide as a group where to allocate those philanthropic funds.

The goal is to increase the impact of their charity work, connect more directly to nonprofits, and learn more about philanthropy.

Giving circles can be as informal as a group of friends or as structured as a foundation, with specific requirements for grant requests and meetings to determine allocations.

The tools on the Amplifier website and offline workshops are intended to make it easier for like-minded donors to create and sustain giving circles and identify recipients for their grant dollars. The website will include a directory of giving circles and nonprofits seeking funds and a platform to track giving circle distributions.

Funds for the launch were provided by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

"We don’t want people to be out there, wanting to start a giving circle, and struggling to find grant applications," says Felicia Herman, executive director of the Natan Fund. "We want them to get to the fun stuff, the grant making and the engagement with people in giving circles."

The Natan Fund, which has roughly 100 members, has allocated roughly $9.6-million in grants since its formation in 2002. Much of that money has been directed to nonprofits that strengthen Jewish identity and community.

Growing Phenomenon

Amplifier was built to further that mission, but its resources could be used by any group.

Giving circles have become a larger part of philanthropy around the world over the past decade.

Studies of the phenomenon have found that participants in giving circles give more, have stronger religious or community ties, and are more strategic in their charitable contributions. They are also younger. Most of the Natan Fund’s members, for example, are under 45, according to Ms. Herman.

"Younger givers like to do things in a community of their peers," she says. "It’s the same thing as social networks—crowdfunding and Facebook. The giving circles are the parallel to that in philanthropy."

Members of the Council of Young Jewish Presidents, a project within the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, were inspired to launch a giving circle after listening to Ms. Herman speak at a funders forum in March. Within a few months, 12 members had contributed $1,000 each to the CYJP Giving Circle.

"The appeal was the ability to see what it feels like to be in the seat of a foundation and to participate in giving with friends," says Hindy Poupko, executive director of the CYJP. "The members of the giving circle have the opportunity to look deeper within themselves to identify the values that drive them."

The resources provided by Amplifier helped the giving circle craft a grant application and the process to receive and review them. The first grants will be made in 2015, according to Ms. Poupko.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said The Natan Fund has roughly 200 members. It has about 100 members.