Three Giving Circles Explain Why It's A Great Option for Giving

by Crystal Shaw on December 02, 2015

By Crystal Shaw

Now's the time of year when we reflect gratefully on our blessings. Are you ready to step up and make a donation toward a better L.A.? Among other choices, Liberty Hill offers donors the chance to create or join a Giving Circle. Being part of a giving circle bolsters the power of your dollar, keeps you abreast of organizations doing good work in Los Angeles and puts you in the company of like-minded, socially conscious people. 

Giving Circles are groups of individuals, corporate representatives and/or philanthropic partners who pool their donations to make a greater impact on the issues they care about. Liberty Hill's Giving Circles provide members with an opportunity for hands-on community activism and collective strategic philanthropy. 

In fact, a recent L.A. Times article states  that more than four dozen giving circles in California and across the U.S. have distributed $2.2 million to over 400 groups in the last six years.    Check out three very different giving circles managed at Liberty Hill and you'll get a sense of the possibilities. We spoke with the chair people Julie Hermelin of The XX Fund, Beatrice Hsu of Pobladores and Rashida Purifoy of Angelenos for LA about their missions, decisions-making approaches, and outreach.

The XX Fund

Co-Chair: Julie Hermelin

Mission Statement: Committed to bringing about lasting social change, The XX Fund is a women's giving circle that makes annual grants to nonprofit organizations that enable women and girls to reach their potential, strive for economic justice and live free of discrimination and violence.

How the giving circle decides who the grants go to:   

"Liberty Hill and the members submit organizations for review, the executive committee reviews the organizations and then out of 25 organizations, we select eleven to vote on.  Each organization that has been nominated of the ones that have been selected from the executive committee submits a five-minute video.  Then everyone in the organization watches the video and then we vote. This video review is something we started last year.  It was actually an idea that Liberty Hill had brought to us as an interesting way for our members to hear from organizations that really encapsulate our mission statement and be able to see the work they're doing, and hear from the people that they work with."

How The XX Fund's gifts go beyond monetary:

"We look at what we're doing with The XX Fund two-fold: On the one hand we're looking to give direct grants to organizations but we're also looking to help spread the word about these organizations.  Even if an organization doesn't necessarily end up getting a grant we hope that the exposure to our community and the larger community that they might not be reaching directly right now can find them new supporters.  Obviously a video is a very short and easy way to help spread the message for a nonprofit so we encourage it.  That said, we are sensitive to making sure the bar remains low enough for application."


What's unique about The XX Fund's strategy for giving:

"One of the pieces of The XX Fund is that a lot of women that are in The XX Fund are incredibly busy, successful women that are juggling careers and families.  They don't have a lot of time.  But they do want to do good in the city.  What we tried to do with The XX Fund is make it incredibly easy to be philanthropic locally. A lot of times people only hear about organizations that have huge marketing budgets or are able to put on a huge gala event, so for smaller organizations that are working locally, that are sometimes under the radar, how can they broaden their reach?  We look to help those organizations.  Some of the organizations that we fund are higher profile because the work they're doing is just really great and meets that need.  But some aren't and we look to have a broad range." 

Why a giving circle is a giving option that should be considered:

"I believe that my knowledge of the issues in my community has been really enriched by the people that I've gotten to know better in these giving circles, because it's friends and friends of friends. I've gotten to know friends of these "friends of friends," and I've been able to share in the knowledge and bring a little bit of different expertise to the table. It also expands your money's reach.  I am a big believer of collective giving, many hands make light work.  Sometimes it can be overwhelming to just see the solicitations one gets in your email, in your mail and you might feel like 'I want to do a little bit in a lot of places.'  This is a way to do a little bit more in a lot of places, or a lot in one place—and more than you can do on your own." 

Pobladores Fund

Co-Chair: Beatrice Hsu

Mission Statement: The Pobladores Fund invests in organizations that are working throughout the diverse neighborhoods of Los Angeles to advocate for social and economic justice, promote human rights, and mitigate the impacts of environmental degradation.

How the giving circle -expands its membership:

"My husband and I are not founding members—we were asked to join.  And that's the way that the circle has grown.  It started with just three or four couples and then over the years they have invited some other friends to join, selectively and slowly.  So it hasn't grown into a huge group but it's a great way to meet friends of friends of friends who are interested in investing in Los Angeles and really giving some thought to where they're putting their charitable dollars benefiting local organizations who are doing really good impact work."

How Pobladores decides who gets the money:

"We have historically had a number of categories—access to capital, women and girls, education, environment.  So as a group we have decided on certain categories of organizations that we have particular interest in.  Those categories have been revisited over time. In fact I think this year we're going to revisit them again.  So we establish some general parameters, the types of organizations that we're interested in funding.  Then, also we typically focus on smaller organizations, those with operating budgets of a million dollars or less, again getting to the impact giving side of this, wanting to make sure that we give several organizations a gift of only a few thousand dollars each, but that few thousand will actually matter to the trajectory of that organization and its worth." 

What goes on during a Pobladores meeting:

"We all get together in person once a year.  In advance of that meeting, every year we select co-chairs for the next year's meeting.  The co-chairs are the ones that work with Liberty Hill staff in advance to set a meeting day, and the Liberty Hill staff puts together a docket of organizations to consider.  They also solicit suggestions from the whole group of anything that any member would like to see be considered on the docket.  In advance of the meeting we'll get a whole list of organizations and a little background information on each.  The group reviews it independently and then we'll get together, have dinner together, and then organize a discussion around each of the candidate originations.  Everyone will have a chance to speak up for whatever they know about the organization.  Then at the end of it we'll just take a vote.  We'll divide up our pool of money and make a pretty quick and reasoned decision.  And part of the evening, besides the act of getting together and making decisions about where to put our pooled gifts, it's also social.  It's nice to connect with all these people who have chosen to participate in this, so we try not to make the whole meeting a debate about which organizations but also a chance to catch up with each other."  

The amount of the gifts Pobladores generally gives:

"Each family, or couple or individual that gets involved—this year was $6000 each.  This year we probably had 50 to 60 thousand dollars to give away.  The giving circle this year has reached the point where it has given away over a million dollars.  It adds up every year. It adds up just by having a group of people committed to giving every year together."


Angelenos for Los Angeles Fund

Chair: Rashida Purifoy

Mission Statement: The Angelenos for L.A. Giving Circle's mission is to create and support positive social change in the greater Los Angeles Black community.

How Angelenos for Los Angeles decides who gets the money

"We take a lot of the organizations that we know about throughout the Los Angeles area.  Sometimes other organizations that we've worked with will tell us about new organizations doing really good work.  We compile a list and try to categorize.  So we may have one category that's Arts & Entertainment, one category that's LGBTQ.  These organizations have to primarily serve the African American population here in Los Angeles as well.  And what we've done recently is narrowed it down to a category.  We then will reach out to those organizations and ask them to fill out an application that we have developed, and present a five-minute video telling us about the organization. Some of the videos are really creative, really fun and give you a great idea of the organization without having to go and meet them or drag them to a meeting on the weekend to meet the members.  That way everyone is able to watch the videos in their own time, read the application responses. We use another online mechanism, whether it be Facebook or Survey Monkey, to say: 'Out of these organizations, which one would you like to vote to give our funds to?'"

Angelenos for Los Angeles' giving goal

"It's not a formal goal but the last few years we've been able to give a $10,000 grant and a $1000 grant to the runner-up.  So that's what we set forth every year [to give] at least what we did last year.  In our giving circle, you can be a 'supporter' or a 'member'.  A supporter is at least $100 and a member is at least $900 for the entire year.  Matching helps. There are a lot of people who work for companies that are very kind and are willing to match any charitable donations that are made."

How current events can influence Angelenos for Los Angeles' giving:

"When you're getting people who want to donate, want to give money, are willing to give time, they want to make sure that their money is going to something that's a worthwhile cause.  And if there are these events that are happening that you're seeing all across the nation, whether it's 'I Can't Breathe' in New York or Mike Brown in Ferguson, you're starting to experience that this isn't a one-off event, this is something that's permeating our society and maybe we can do something about it.  Maybe our $10,000 will help get a group together here that's going to advocate, that's going to give them some presence that they may not have had before."

Why starting a giving circle is a great method of giving for millennials

"I'm pretty tech savvy but I think there's more that we could do to get donations with minimal participation.  If there's a way through social media to say 'Hey there's this going on, text 'blah blah blah' to this and give $50 or $100,' and if you're able to do that through social media through Vine or Twitter or Snapchat or any of those options, you might be able to reach a lot more people who don't know each other who didn't realize they felt this way about a certain issue. We could expand our giving that way.  So I do think there are ways to get millennials involved."