Heavily pregnant and naive, I applied for LaunchPad in 2015. At the time, I didn’t really understand what LaunchPad was, but I decided to take a risk anyway. I was accepted into the program which is designed to establish a network to create opportunities for innovation, activism and collaboration in the Jewish community. It was a phenomenal experience. One of the sessions at the LaunchPad retreat that really stood out for me was the Giving Circle which was facilitated by Tracie Olcha and Amanda Miller.
What I love about a Giving Circle is that it gives a group of people an opportunity to pool their resources and join together to create a positive difference in the world. Donors contribute equal sums of money to create a larger impact. The members of the Giving Circle share similar values. The experience is valuable for the givers as much as the beneficiaries. It is educational, empowering, social, fun and a strategic means of giving. This form of philanthropy embraces accountability and entrepreneurship. It broadens the boundaries of what’s possible for individual givers as well as for the grantees. A giver is no longer limited by their own individual capacity and a grantee isn’t confined to seeking funds from larger donors.
Giving Circles are accessible to everyone to participate, unlike traditional philanthropy which may only be an option for people with significant wealth. According to a paper, “Collective giving and its role in Australian philanthropy”(2017) Giving Circles have started to become prominent in Australia only recently. “Continued steady growth can be expected, reflecting trends in both the USA and the UK and Ireland.’’
A baby, two young children and a very busy life got in the way, but the concept of the Giving Circles never left my mind. I just needed to find the right time. Wind forward to 2018. I read through the materials I’d received at LaunchPad. The booklet was always at my bedside. I felt inspired and arranged to meet the Australian Jewish Funders (AJF) for some advice. The best recommendation I received was to join forces with someone else to form a Giving Circle. Working together halves the number of people you need to approach, and it reduces the amount of work you need to do. So, I found a friend to join me and together we planned to find 5 or 6 couples for our Giving Circle.
I have always been passionate about children’s health, so I met with someone on the Board of the RCH Foundation and she was very excited about the idea of a Giving Circle aligned with them as it had never been done before. I had conversations with families who are so grateful for the outstanding treatment they received at RCH and were very impressed with the cutting-edge research taking place at the hospital. They wanted to give back and donate, but they felt their funds would be too insignificant to make an impact. They had no idea how their small support could make a difference. I realized the need for something collective.
My friend and I asked several parents who had young children of similar age at our school. Most people knew one another and felt comfortable sitting around the table together. We set the target at the same agreed donation amount per family for the first year. The agreed sum essentially broke down to the cost of a coffee a day. We managed to lock in 12 families.
Almost three quarters of the group have had experiences with the Royal Children’s Hospital. Many already had a direct connection to RCH. Three projects were presented to the Giving Circle group by Hospital leaders as possible activities to support. There was a majority vote for two part time psychologists on the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at RCH. The other option had been to support the nursing staff, and another for the patients and their families.
We sought some strategic advice from AJF for the next two meetings with our group. Together we explored what our goals for the year were. We broke it down and discussed what we want the members to be thinking, feeling and planning for the completion of the Giving Circle. This was effective support and we really appreciated their perspective and guidance.
At LaunchPad in 2015, we had engaged in a facilitated activity that used value cards to assist us to identify the values that are important to each of us. AJF facilitators agreed to run this program for our Giving Circle on a Sunday afternoon at the LaunchPad Hub, the home of the AJF-LaunchPad community throughout the year. They helped us explore our family values and each family created a mission statement using the core values of their family. We then went on to establish a values statement for the group and recognized that we particularly share the collective value of kindness.
At the 2018 AJF conference I heard about different styles of Giving Circles and I shared my journey. Someone who was sitting next to me that day said she was inspired by what I shared about our circle, and she then tried to establish one of her own. She also chose to dedicate it to the RCH. It was a real compliment that she chose to do so. Since then I have been approached by other organizations and individuals wanting advice about how to set up a Giving Circle and wanting to know why it is effective.
My family has enjoyed the journey, particularly the opportunity to sit around the table and discuss our family values as we did as part of the process. We probably wouldn’t have had the discussion otherwise.
The families in my daughter’s kindergarten raised $1560 for the RCH. The children each decided to donate $10 of their birthday money to the hospital. My four-and-a-half-year-old daughter was very excited when I went into classroom with a certificate of thanks. It tied in beautifully with a celebration of Mitzvah Day at the school. What a brilliant example of what’s possible amongst our youngest generation of philanthropists! This is another type of Giving Circle.
Doesn’t matter how big or small. Giving Circles are fun, social, educational and create meaningful impact.
Shelley delivered this speech describing her Giving Circle journey at the 2019 Australian Jewish Funders conference.