Nonprofit Insider: How to Start a Giving Circle

Did you know that black philanthropy has roots in the 19th century?  As Harriet Tubman led thousands of slaves to freedom in the Underground Railroad, her success was largely due to black charitable giving. Volunteers, mutual aid societies, Quakers and other groups joined together to donate money, shelter, food, and supplies along the way to ensure a successful operation that spanned a decade. This form of collective philanthropy still exists in the form of a growing trend, called giving circles. A giving circle is a philanthropic vehicle in which individual donors pool their money and other resources and decide together where to give them away.   Just as Tubman was a leader in spurring charitable giving then, philanthropist Darryl Lester is leading the charge in today’s African American giving circle movement.

“Giving circles are a resurgence of an old tradition of generosity and caring that is making an impact all across the country,” says Lester, president of HindSight Consulting, Inc., a research and development company that designs tools and services for institutions and communities. “They provide an opportunity for individuals to join others through collective charitable giving. There is something exciting about people pooling their resources and making joint decisions on how to give grants to improve life in their community.”

In 2003, Lester received a grant from the Ford Foundation and began work with young African American adults in the South to focus on how they engage and give back to their communities. For many of them, their intellectual and financial capital was undervalued. Along with the support of various sponsors, HindSight Consulting organized these individuals into giving circles to strategically invest their time, talent, and treasures back into their communities in an effort to address issues of race and equity.

Now, Lester has helped to form 11 African American giving circles that are members of the Community Investment Network, a resource he started to support and sustain giving circles. Interested in starting a giving circle?  Here are some tips to get you started:

Develop a strategy. In addition to naming your group, questions to discuss at your first meeting are:  What will be your giving circle’s mission? How many members will you have? How much will each person donate?   How often will you meet and where?

Choose a cause. Not only do giving circles provide funds, but they also provide support to their local nonprofit community. As your giving circle begins to grow and raise funds, you should decide what geographic and issue areas you will support, how you will select organizations to fund, and how often you will donate.

Decide where to place your collective donations. Will your group open a joint bank account or use a nonprofit to serve as a fiscal agent?  Other options include writing a check to an organization, setting up a donor advised fund at your local community foundation, or becoming a public foundation.

Other Black Giving Circles:

The Circle of Joy Atlanta

A Legacy of Tradition

Black Women for Black Girls Giving Circle

Tracey Webb is the founder and editor of, a blog that highlights African American philanthropy. She is also the founder of the Black Benefactors, a Washington, DC based giving circle that provides grants to organizations serving the African American community in the DC region.