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North Hills Monthly

Nonprofits Benefit from Collective Impact of Giving Circles

Nov 29, 2019 12:12PM ● By Kathleen Ganster

Photo courtesy Inspired Women

Giving circles have become a popular method for people to join forces to provide more resources for nonprofits and those in need. There are several giving circles in the Pittsburgh area helping others locally, nationally and in some cases, even internationally. 

The Pittsburgh Foundation’s Center for Philanthropy holds two to four giving circles each year. 

“Giving circles are structured learning and giving opportunities where groups of donors, typically capped at about 20 people, come together to deeply understand the issues affecting our region and give to make a difference,” explained Kelly Uranker, director, Center for Philanthropy. Past topics have included the opioid crisis, juvenile justice and single mothers. 

In the case of the Pittsburgh Foundation, members of the giving circles research the issues both independently and together, each committing $2,500 to a common giving pool. These funds are then matched by the foundation into a larger giving pool that donors distribute at the conclusion of their time together. 

“Giving circle members develop requests for proposals and agree on how to distribute resources through lively debate and thoughtful discussion,” Uranker said.

There are many advantages of a giving circle over more traditional forms of donation. For one, they allow donors to become philanthropists.

“This is because these donors engage in the same type of in-depth process that funders go through when considering making a grant. Giving circles allow people to move from having a casual interest in an issue to becoming deeply informed about it and how it affects the community,” said Uranker.

Inspired Women Paying It Forward was created by Debra Dion Krischke in the North Hills in 2015. Women gather four times a year, with each pledging $100 per quarter. At each meeting, three nonprofits offer short presentations, and members vote on which organization should receive the funds. Members then donate directly to the winning recipient, so all money goes directly to the charities, which rotate between local and international initiatives.

“After nearly two decades of fundraising for women’s initiatives like domestic violence, human trafficking and global education for women, I created this model to raise serious money to help women locally and globally,” Dion Krischke said. The organization now has chapters located in the South Hills, Westmoreland County and most recently, in Sewickley. 

“After our October round of meetings, we have donated more than $160,000 collectively in the past four years,” Dion Krischke said. The meetings are not only the chance for women to give together, but an opportunity to network and form friendships.

This is another benefit of giving circles. “Giving circles create bonds among participants and grantees that wouldn’t otherwise exist without the shared experience of real dialogue and learning together,” Uranker said.

Rick Malik of Gibsonia and Kirk Vogel of Wexford created the local chapter of 100+ Men Who Care Pittsburgh in 2017. 

“We loved the simplicity of the model and the fact that everything is local,” said Vogel. “The receiving charity gets 100 percent of the collected donations; members write their checks directly to the charity or donate online.”

Giving circles are a great way for like-minded individuals to impact local charities and have the opportunity to provide a charity with a sizeable contribution, Vogel said. It’s also quick. 

 “We only meet four times a year for 1-1/2 hours; 45 minutes is social and 45 is business,” said Vogel. “To date, we’ve donated $106,450, which is $6,500 per hour of meeting time.”

For the Sankofa Fund of Southwest PA, a giving circle was exactly the model they needed.

“We were searching for a vehicle that would enable various individuals from the community to come together to participate on the supply side of philanthropy.  A giving circle seemed to be the best vehicle for entry and to further build a small community of people who could share their time, talent, and treasure to impact our greater community,” said Mark Lewis, CEO and president of the POISE Foundation.

The Sankofa Fund was formed by a group of African Americans with the mission to inspire, educate and unite a community of givers to make contributions that transform African American communities in southwestern Pennsylvania. Since their first grant in 2010, the fund has given more than $27,000 back to the community, which has gone toward a wide range of programs including the arts, advocacy and youth mentoring.

According to The Pittsburgh Foundation, it’s never too early to learn the value of giving circles. The foundation has created forums to prepare the next generation of philanthropists, including the New Philanthropic Leaders (NPL) program for young professionals ages 22-40, and Children’s Giving Circles. 

Children’s Giving Circles follow the format of other giving circles and focus on children from elementary to high school, while the NPL participants work together for four months learning and selecting a topic, inviting proposals, listening to pitches and finally selecting a recipient. 

“Our experience is that younger people care deeply about the community and want to give back now. They do not want to wait until they are retired to contribute,” said Uranker. “We’re delighted to help them develop both the mindset and the skills to make philanthropy a part of their lives.”

To learn more about each organization and its giving circles, visit:

The Pittsburgh Foundation:

Inspired Women:

100+ Men Who Care Pittsburgh:

Sankofa Fund: