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Giving Circles Provide Way for Women to Engage in Philanthropy

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Wednesday, March 23, 2022   

Philanthropy groups are pointing out a big gap in donations toward groups focused on women's and girls' issues during Women's History Month this year.

According to the Women's Philanthropy Institute, less than 2% of philanthropic dollars go to such organizations, but a different model for giving could help fill the gap.

Giving circles are a collective philanthropy model where people pool their resources and decide which causes to support.

Tammy Wilhoite, co-chair of the coordinating council for the Portland-based giving circle Ninety-Nine Girlfriends, said many circles bring women together because they historically have been excluded from philanthropy.

"People who may not have ever seen themselves as somebody who could invest money in their community are being invited to say, 'Hey, come help us figure out where this money should go,' and your money makes a difference," Wilhoite explained.

Wilhoite pointed out her organization is inclusive of all women, including people who are gender nonbinary and gender-nonconforming, and trans women. She said members of the circle contribute $1,100, $1,000 of which goes into a grant pool awarded to a nonprofit each year.

Wilhoite noted Ninety-Nine Girlfriends recently allocated $90,000 to Constructing Hope, a Portland-based organization training women, people of color and formerly incarcerated individuals for jobs in the construction sector.

"It develops a diverse workforce," Wilhoite outlined. "It helps with long-term unemployment, it helps those people that are impacted by that to develop sustainable careers, it's reduced recidivism, and it's provided people to the construction industry, which never has enough participants."

Sara Lomelin, CEO of Philanthropy Together, a group supporting giving circles worldwide, said circles can be flexible with their funds and most groups are making impacts in their local communities.

"Eighty-four percent of giving circles give locally," Lomelin reported. "So we tend to support those small, grassroots, local nonprofits that are invisible to traditional philanthropy."

Lomelin added there are about 2,500 giving circles around the globe.


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