September 13, 2012

Hey, Giving Circles

Hey, giving circles, this post is for you.   I love what you're about, and what is happening along side you in the fascinating and very promising new giving world.  I'm looking forward to swimming in some very exciting giving circles water next month in Birmingham at the Community Investment Network's 2012 conference.  If you're with a giving circle and you'll be there, please say hello!

While my work in philanthropy began as a staffer with a community foundation, my community work goes back to circles of neighbors, connecting around shared interests and getting the job done with time, talent and treasure resources that we contributed ourselves.  We grew our circle through connections with people around their time, talent or treasure.  And we kept a constant eye out for people who had gifts to give (even if they didn't see themselves that way).  We also had welcome mats and on-ramps out everywhere to help people find us and make a connection that was about contribution.

You might not work exactly like that, but my hunch is that you are working with that same spirit in your giving circle.  My hunch is also that the energy you feel when you come together around giving together is the same energy that we felt that kept us going, tackling big issues that others thought were too big for us to tackle. And, this is the same energy that fuels the citizen space groups that the big thinking on small grants world is all about.  We may have on different jerseys, but my hunch is that we're all on the same team - the team that is about the possibilities that open up when everyday people connect around a shared interest and get something going together.

Here's a question and a proposition for you, giving circles. 

When you meet with money on the table to give, are you finding and funding groups of everyday people that are not on the more typical funding radar screen?  When you are making decisions about where to invest your giving circle dollars, are you looking for groups that are operating with the same time, talent and treasure spirit that gives you energy?  I'm asking for 3 reasons:

1) I know that it is hard to find these groups - even for foundations with paid staff.  These are groups that aren't seasoned grantseekers or show up on Guidestar or even in a phone book.  Hard to find - yes.  But findable and worth finding - also yes.

2) I've been surprised the power of money to change the conversation - even when neighborhood residents are making decisions about funding that is specifically designed for community projects, specifically in their neighborhood (with their neighbors as the do-ers).  I'm fascinated at the moment with how easy it is for people to embrace, with the most noble "do good with this money" impulses, a hard-line approach about who should be trusted with money or who can deliver on a project.  It's almost as if people become different people when they put on a funders hat.  I'm not saying that this is you.  I'm just saying that I've seen this happen so often that I'm really curious now about what people would do if they didn't have a preconceived notion of what to do to be a good funder.  Would the conversations be more like neighbor to neighbor conversation "time, talent, treasure conversations" than the bottom-line bank finance officer to customer trying to take out a loan conversation?

3) I'm intrigued by the new possibilities that you are creating, giving circles, and the change you could create as part of the big thinking on small grants movement. And, I can imagine how much fun it would be for you if you could see and feel your role in building bridges between the funding world and the energy and efforts of everyday people who are connecting for mutual aid and collective action right on their own block in their home communities.

Here's my proposition:

I am inspired by what I hear of the relationship that one giving circle - Cleveland Colectivo - has developed with Neighborhood Connections, one of the grassroots grantmaking funders in our network.  Cleveland Colectivo has gotten to know Neighborhood Connections in easy ways that help them spot the types of groups and projects that they might not find otherwise - and as a result of these easy connections, have funded some of these groups and projects.  Just easy connections - opening up the list of possibilities for Cleveland Colectivo to consider for their giving circle conversations.

I'm interested in what Grassroots Grantmakers might be able to do to help create or nurture other easy connections so that other giving circles can also have citizen space groups on their list of possibilities.  We're happy to share some quick "what to look for" tips to giving circles who are curious about supporting groups of everyday people who are pooling their time, talent and treasure to make a difference on their own blocks.  We're also happy to see what we can do to help you create some easy connections like Cleveland Colectivo has made with Neighborhood Connections.

I'm mostly interested in hearing if there is anything we can do to provide an easy on-ramp for you to the big thinking on small grants world of resourcing citizen space.  I have an eager ear to the ground on this question and am looking for people to join me as on-ramp co-creators.  Connect with me via a comment here or an email.  Or if you're in Birmingham, say hello and let's see what we can cook up.