Raise Millions and Strengthen Belonging with a Giving Circle
Giving circles provide groups of people a way to pool their donations to make a bigger impact on their charity of choice collectively than they ever could individually. They also give members a forum for collaboration, camaraderie, and belonging—something we all need now more than ever.
Jennifer Stewart, the CEO of Providence Healthcare Foundation in Toronto, ON, knows the impact giving circles can have firsthand: the women’s and men’s giving circles she founded have generated more than $2 million for her organization, as well as countless new business connections and friendships. Here’s how she did it.
AHP Connect: The women’s giving circle at Providence has been around for more than a decade. How did you launch it?
Jennifer Stewart: I heard about the concept at an AHP conference session on trends in women’s giving. I shared the concept with five of my closest gal friends from our Women in Philanthropy group. They loved the idea, and we sat down with a glass of wine and really talked about the ways we like to give, but also about creating a way to connect with each other. I made the very first $1,000 gift, and they each made a $1,000 gift, and before we knew we had a $5,000 grant for Providence.
But we didn't want to stop there. We thought, well, let's have a party and see if we can entice others to get involved. The advisory committee invited their friends, and we had a lot of friends through Providence.
Our goal was to get 30 others to join us. We had 50 people sign up on that very first day. We raised $50,000, but more importantly, we'd raised 50 friends who wanted to get closer to us. Many of them have since invested much more of their time and treasure, became board members or committee members, attended our events and in many cases have become major gift donors.
AHP Connect: How much does it cost to take part in the women’s giving circle?
Jennifer: We ask everyone to make a $1,000 donation, but we’re careful not to assume everybody's financial capacity. We make it as easy as possible by offering it at $83.33 per month, which makes it a little easier to say yes, and then by the end of the year, we've made that $1,000 donation.
AHP Connect: How often does the giving circle meet, and how do you structure meetings?
Jennifer: The women's circle has four meetings a year. One of them is always an inspiration night, where we bring in a guest speaker to inspire us with their dazzling leadership or by having overcome some great odds. And in one meeting we vote on where to put our donation.
AHP Connect: Does the giving circle only make financial gifts, or do they also donate time or other things?
Jennifer: Involvement takes many forms. Sometimes members plant in the gardens with our volunteers. Sometimes they'll say, “I'd like to join your board.” One time someone said to me, “My company manufactures socks. Do your residents need socks?” And I said, “Yes, actually, they do.”
AHP Connect: You have separate giving circles for women and men. Do women and men want different things from the giving circle experience?
Jennifer: For all of us gals, it’s about seizing the opportunity and going for it. It’s always women things: women speakers, women events, empowering each other. It’s girl power all the way.
The men look at it a little differently. When they meet it’s all about luxury and business networking.
Both are accomplishing the same goal, but they have different cultural feels to them. What is most inspiring to me is that for both groups, what meant the most was the act of voting on where their money goes within Providence Healthcare.
AHP Connect: The women’s giving circle had existed for five years when you started the men’s version. How did the women’s group influence the launch of the men’s?
Jennifer: At first, we followed the exact same model as we started with the girls. I pulled together a group of five guy donors and guy friends and said, here’s what we do for the women. We have an inspiration night. We have a voting meeting. What do you guys think? And they advised me rather clearly and quickly that those aren't the same kind of activities that they would like to do. We never did bring in a guest speaker, because they did not want that.
They wanted luxury meetings. For example, we went to the Hockey Hall of Fame and had a Scotch tasting. We also have done a sailing regatta at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Afterwards, we came back and had a beautiful dinner on the lawn overlooking the skyline of Toronto. It was glorious and luxurious and really fun.
The men's group found sponsors so that none of the events we hosted added cost to the program, and 100 percent of their donation could go back to the charity, which was important to them.
AHP Connect: What is the biggest obstacle to running a successful giving circle?
Jennifer: I've had a couple of peers who couldn't get the program off the ground because it became too labor intensive. We've worked very hard to push as much of the work out to the advisory committee, to keep that work from creeping in too much on our staff.
AHP Connect: What advice would you give a peer who wanted to start a giving circle?
Jennifer: Be the first member. Put your money where your mouth is.
Pull together a group of like-minded people—it doesn’t have to be women and men, that’s just what worked for us—who are philanthropic and wanting to connect with your charity. Create a vision, and just go one step at a time.
Register for Convene AHP, a virtual healthcare philanthropy event, to hear more advice from Jennifer on developing your own giving circle, and to participate in more than 10 other educational and networking events.