Guest Post: Giving Circles at Illinois Wesleyen University

Sharon Lipinski, What Gives???’s original guest blogger and Founder of Change Gangs, is back with her second guest post, which she has generously shared from her own blog: Giving Circles Help. Read more about Sharon and her amazing organization by clicking here.

Also, right click to download the mP3 of Sharon’s interview with Jeffrey Mavros to your computer: Giving Circles at Illinois Wesleyn University.
Or, of course, click the link to hear the interview now!


Jeffrey Mavros was looking to increase donations and engagement with their younger graduates, and three years ago he hoped that giving circles would be a great tool for reaching the Millennial generation. They now have 16 different giving circles with over 200 participants funding 16 different scholarships for current Wesleyen students.

This is a win-win situation. The alumnus feels like he/she is doing their part for the university and making a significant contribution to a student. And the university engages their young alumni, develops long-term, deep relationships with them, and raises more money for scholarships for the university’s current students.

I hope you enjoy discovering how giving circles may work for your university.

Location: Bloomington, IL
Founded: 2009

Written by Sharon Lipinski
Founder of Change Gangs, Virtual Giving Circles
You can connect with Sharon via:
Facebook | Google+ | Twitter

Guest Post: 3 Reasons Your University Should Have a Giving Circle (And How You Can Start One)

Enjoy this post by What Gives???’s first guest blogger Sharon Lipinski, Founder of Change Gangs.  Read more about Sharon and her amazing organization by clicking here.

What Is a Giving Circle? 

A giving circle is a form of shared philanthropy. The only defining feature of a giving circle is that members pool their donations into one large fund, and as a group decide how to disburse that money.

3 Reasons You Want a Giving Circle
A giving circle can help you:

  1. Deepen relationships with donors.
    A giving circle gives alumni an “insider” view of what’s going on at the university.  Many alumni already support the university in different ways; they may be buying tickets to the games, donating to their specific colleges or even donating directly to the university. But when they’re part of the giving circle, they have a deeper understanding and information about how the university works and they get to have a say in how their gifts to the university are spent.During the course of their membership in the giving circle, some members may become very interested in a particular program or department and give additional funds. They may get involved in capital campaigns. Because they are more emotionally involved in the university and donating to the university is an active part of their life, giving circle members often support multiple areas of the university.
  2. Fund projects the university can’t or doesn’t fund.
    The university’s funds are limited and as much as they’d like to, they can’t always fund all the worthwhile programs. A giving circle can fill in the gaps and fund the new, the untried, the small, and the otherwise overlooked but valuable endeavors.  It’s even possible that the giving circle’s grants allows a project to grow into such a valuable program that the university takes over funding it.
  3. Raise more money.
    Giving circle members are emotionally involved in donating, and donating to the university becomes part of their identity. As the relationship deepens, the amount of money a giving circle member chooses to donate can increase.  In addition, because members are exposed to programs and faculty they may not otherwise know about, members can get excited about supporting those individual programs and donate above and beyond their giving circle contributions.

How Would a Giving Circle Work At My University?

Starting with your most active alumni and inviting them to be a part of the university’s new giving circle that will support programs within the university. You may choose to focus on women or science programs, but you can choose to support any university program.

These new giving circle members make an annual donation into the giving circle’s fund. Perhaps the starting donation is $500 and there is a second tier for “president’s circle” at $1,000. If an alumnus has graduated within the last 4 years, they could donate $250 a year. The tiered giving structure can encourage higher levels of giving while still making it accessible to everyone.

Once per year, you notify departments, faculty, and student organizations that grant money is available and how they can apply. You review the grant applications with your giving circle (maybe a few members volunteer to review the grant applications), and the applications meeting your giving circle’s requirements go on to the next round.

The remaining applications are then researched a little more in-depth. Maybe a giving circle member will visit the department or have a call with the faculty member to get a better understanding of the project. The notes and applications are uploaded to a website and emailed to members who then vote online for which projects they’d like to fund.  The project(s) with the most votes receive the giving circle’s funds. Because the grant process is finished up on-line, alumni who no longer live in the area can participate.

You organize a ceremony to award the funds where alumni mingle and hear from the winners and past winners about what they’ve done with the funds and what the funds have done for them. This allows members to connect with other alumni and hear about the difference they’re making first hand. As a result, their membership in the circle and relationship with university feel even more rewarding.

Next year, you start a direct mail campaign to invite more alumni and your current members introduce you to other alumni you can invite. As you grow, so does your relationship with your alumni, the amount of money you’re collecting, and the impact you’re making on the university.

How to Start a Giving Circle
Download the Start A Giving Circle Guide for the 4 steps to starting your own giving circle.

Also, review the articles and interviews at Giving Circles Help to learn from people around the country who are already running giving circles.

Giving circles are infinitely adaptable and flexible, so be creative and design a giving circle that works for you and your university.


Written by Sharon Lipinski
Founder of Change Gangs, Virtual Giving Circles
You can connect with Sharon via:
Facebook | Google+ | Twitter