Giving Circle amplifies the impact and engagement of individual philanthropists

When a group of committed, charitable people come together, combine their resources, engage their collective brain power and collaborate with experts, the results can be far greater than one person acting alone.

That’s the idea behind the Northern Kentucky Giving Circle, a project of the Greater Cincinnati Foundation. This summer, a small group of donors, with the support of the Foundation, gave away $60,000 to six Northern Kentucky not for profit organizations.

The members’ contributions were matched six to one by the Foundation. They sought proposals from not for profits in the areas of ensuring vulnerable families have access to food and shelter and expanding substance abuse treatment programs and wraparound services supporting families with a substance-addicted family member. Food access was also important to them.

They reviewed the proposals, scored them, and decided which to grant money to, in this case a total of $60,000 in grants of $10,000.

Perhaps more importantly than the grants was the learning and engagement that happens when a group of caring individuals come together for an in-depth look at area organizations. That can lead to more support and more involvement in the work of those groups.

That added benefit that comes from getting others actively involved in meaningful work can help break the stereotype that donors must be wealthy to be involved in giving. By combining the power of committed smaller gifts from people with similar interests, it can create an impact in the community, says Laura Menge, senior philanthropic adviser at the Greater Cincinnati Foundation who worked with the Northern Kentucky Giving Circle.

“There are people who may take their involvement well beyond the Giving Circle and have a lasting impact,” Menge says.

The recipients of this year’s Giving Circle awards are:

  • Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky, which provides behavioral health and substance use treatment for youth and families who have experienced mental health disorders, addiction, abuse, neglect, or trauma.
  • Transitions, Inc., which provides residential and outpatient treatment for substance use disorders.
  • Diocesan Catholic Children’s Home, which provides residential treatment, foster care, adoption services, case management and school services for boys and girls who have been removed from their homes.
  • Women’s Crisis Center, which offers services to people who have experienced domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault.
  • Life Learning Center, which provides education in health, financial, spiritual, and emotional areas for people who have suffered from addiction and incarceration.
  • Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky, which provides shelter for the homeless.

Meeting in the boardroom of Impact Cowork, a coworking and meeting space in Newport, the group, with the assistance of staff from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, wrote the request for grant proposals that would be made available to not-for-profits in the region.

"They told us what they wanted to support," Menge says. In this case, the group wanted to support emergency shelters for women and children and addiction services.

Social service organizations had four weeks to return their applications, which were read by each member, who then scored them using a consistent rubric. That was followed with a group discussion and decision.

The gold standard in the region for this kind of engaged giving is Impact 100. This group of women, who now number in the hundreds, will donate a total of $436,000 this fall to four not-for-profit organizations.

The group was founded in 2001 and since then has awarded more than $5 million to not-for-profits in Greater Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and Southeastern Indiana.

The Giving Circle is part of Greater Cincinnati Foundation's longstanding engagement in Northern Kentucky. Its Northern Kentucky Fund was set up 21 years ago after community leaders sought a charitable vehicle for Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.

In 1998, GCF teamed with local leaders and ForwardQuest (the predecessor of Vision 2015 and Skyward) to establish the fund, an endowed fund to provide lasting support for the sole benefit of the region.

The fund now consists of a suite of endowments that total about $13 million and which provide the means for about $500,000 a year in grants.

In addition to that is what the Foundation calls a family of funds, about 140 different funds, such as scholarship funds and donor-advised funds, that are designated for specific causes. The total assets of those is $34 million.

The Northern Kentucky Fund is a regional asset, having grown through the support of many on both sides of the Ohio River and people who care about the work social service organizations are doing, not where they are based.

"You don’t have to live in Northern Kentucky to care about those organizations," Menge says. "Most of the grants actually come from Ohio."

The first Giving Circle was launched in 2017 as a way to engage donors more fully in the mission of the Foundation and of the causes supported by the region's social service organizations.

The first group awarded three grants to support workforce development and equitable college access in Northern Kentucky. The total distribution was $50,000, which included a separate benefactor, the friend of a Giving Circle member, who liked one of the projects so much that he gave $15,000.

Grants were awarded to the “Team Kenton Foundation” a program of Kenton County Public Schools, to Bellevue Independent Schools for a program called “Cradle to College” and to the Gateway Community and Technical College Foundation for its “15 to Finish” initiative.

Read more: GCF Giving Circle supports NKY's new pathways to college, workforce

"If you want to give in partnership with other donors who care about the same thing that you do, it can be an advantage," Menge says.

Giving Circles also enable donors to help decide how their donations are used.

"People are saying, 'I want to be part of the conversation of where that money goes,'" Menge says.

The Foundation supports other giving circles too:

The Animal Welfare Giving Circle support organizations involved in protecting and fostering the health of pets and other animals.

Giving Black: Cincinnati Giving Circle, developed as a result of last year’s Giving Black: Cincinnati report.

The Arts and Culture Giving Circle focuses on supporting the region's arts scene.

GCF’s NEXT Fund and its NEXT Giving Circle members will choose grantees in mid-October.




Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is an award-winning journalist, Cincinnati native and father of three. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.
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