Key Points

Giving circles have emerged around the world as an alternative to mainstream, bureaucratic philanthropy. This article examines the types of organizations that benefit from giving circles in the U.S. and the U.K., drawing on data from interviews, surveys, observations, and documentation collected in both countries.

The findings show that giving circles tend to fund certain types of organizations — often those that are small and locally based, startups and newer organizations that are reorganizing or transitioning, those that have a business orientation, and those that can engage members or show significant impact in relation to their size.

While some populations, such as women and girls and those from minority racial and ethnic groups, appear to be benefiting more from giving circles than had been the case in traditional philanthropy, giving circles may do little to shift the norm — that most philanthropy does not go to the poor and needy. For organized philanthropy, supporting giving circles may be a means to expand giving to traditionally underserved groups and might help shift funding to smaller community organizations.

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Open Access