Simply stated, giving circles are a form of shared giving where a group of people pool their resources to make an impact in their community. Participants collectively decide what organizations or programs to fund and are generally more involved in the giving process than simply writing a check. They may be organized around a set of issues like environmentalism or in support of a particular cause or organization. In some cases they are formed around gender, geographic location or ethnicity as a way for members of those groups to drive resources toward issues and programs that are important to them. Research about giving circles is a little sparse but as of 2006, there were approximately 400 giving circles documented in 44 states and the District of Columbia.

In the Rochester area, some examples of giving circles include the Rochester Women’s Giving Circle that focuses on programs that promote economic independence for women. The LGBT Fund for Greater Rochester supports efforts to improve the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in our region, and currently in development is a giving circle for African American individuals with an interest in philanthropy and giving.

NextGen Rochester is a giving circle formed under the umbrella of the Rochester Area Community Foundation as a way to engage young professionals. While the fundraising and financial aspect of giving circles are important to their purpose, another equally important piece is the education and engagement of its members. NextGen members learn about community needs, participate in site visits of area nonprofits and learn about philanthropy in the process.

In the end, it’s much more than just writing a check. But speaking of checks, we’ve created funding capacity for area nonprofits that just wasn’t there before. By pooling our resources we’re able to have more impact than a single young professional might. In many cases, we receive grant proposals from nonprofits to help support efforts, programs and activities that otherwise might not happen.

Finally, while social pursuits aren’t the primary goal of a giving circle, we’ve found that it’s a great way to meet other community-minded people and have fun in the process. If you’re a current member, you have our thanks. If you’d like more information about joining we’d be happy to provide that as well. Drop us a line at nextgenroc@racf.org for more details.