“Throughout history, women have gathered together—in homes and churches, town squares and bodegas—to heal their communities. Perhaps it is no coincidence that when we gather as women, we gather in a circle. We sit or stand, palm to palm, shoulder to shoulder, each of us equal and able to see not just the eyes of those across from us but into the soul for which those eyes serve as doorways. It is in that circle that we collect ourselves, each other, our stories, and our purpose. It is in that circle that we celebrate and grow.” Rosie Molinari, Founder of the Circle de Luz, Davidson, North Carolina.
Over the past two decades, philanthropy has taken a new and exciting form, one that women have embraced. Increasingly, women are coming together to give collectively—agreeing on the cause, issue, or organization to support and deciding where the gifts will be granted. Women’s giving circles come in many varieties, from potlucks to annual gifts of thousands of dollars.
The media first picked up on women’s giving circles in 1998 when Colleen Willoughby and her Washington Women’s Foundation were featured in People magazine. From that point, women’s giving circles increased exponentially for several reasons: women had higher education opportunities, more career choices and were taking control of monies earned, inherited and married; founders of women’s giving circles were community leaders who recognized women’s potential to give; and women like Willoughby and others initiated and embraced shared giving and attracted press attention, which was instrumental in helping establish the trend.
When the concept of giving circles became known, it quickly reached that magical moment when an idea or trend of social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire Women’s potential to give was part of that magic moment, but mostly women flocked to the idea of creating their own organization, giving together, pooling their money and deciding where it would be given. From only a few giving circles in 2000 to over 1500 seventeen years later, awarding millions of dollars annually, women have moved from quilting bees, book clubs, church circles, and investment clubs into philanthropy.
It only made sense, as women like to do things together in a nonhierarchical way—and a circle represents just that. A circle is not a triangle with one person at the top and the rest of the people at the bottom; it is not a not a box with sharp divisive corners. A circle is a never-ending line in which everyone has the same amount of ownership and authority.
We believe that the concept of a circle for women resounds no matter where they live. And we know from research that women want to bring change to address the issues they care about. Women’s Giving Circles International is proud to be a part of bringing these two theories to the world through women’s giving circles and know that from them, women are poised to boldly shape a better world.