If you are somewhat familiar with philanthropic terms, you may have come up with “giving circles” as a way to give in your local hometown to address some need that is important to you. In this blog, we will dig deeper into giving circles as both an object of our giving and as a tool for smart giving. Before clarifying giving circles of the heart and head, we need to review some fundamental concepts of smart giving. In this blog, we will incorporate basic concepts to share with you the two different types of giving circles.

In previous blogs, fundamental concepts have been introduced such as Philanthropic Conversation and the Personal Philanthropic Giving Process, Bridging the Heart and Head, and the Seven Essential Questions for Smart Giving that can be used to frame the design of your giving. One type of giving circle originates from the giving heart and helps answer one of the more heart-felt, emotionally dominant seven essential questions. This question is, “Who should I give to?” The second type of giving engages the more practical thinking head and is a philanthropic tool that is used to help groups leverage their combined wheelhouse gifts to make an even greater impact. Typically this second, more practical giving circle comes to fruition within their local community and answers the question, “How do I give?”

Let's look at each of these giving circles individually. Since we always lead our personal giving with our giving heart followed by the thinking head, we will start with the giving circle of the heart.

Giving Circles of the Heart as an Answer to “Who to Give to?”

This first giving circle is based on our emotional attachments to those people, causes, and institutions that are closest to us and then radiates out from us and our family. If you look at the diagram below you will see this specific giving circle represents you as a giver who has an intrinsic need to give to others—normally family first and then to something outside of self that represents a concentric circle starting with you and your immediate family in the center, then expanding to extended family, then to local causes, your church, or other hometown related organizations that are important to you. There may have been a significant event in your life that affected you so deeply when we asked the question of who to give to as a direct answer to our why we give in the philanthropic giving process, it is easy to understand the idea of the concentric circles and how our most immediate needs are to give to those closest to us and then those causes closest to us. In most cases the giving is to immediate family and those causes, events, people or institutions that have had a personal impact on us or those closest to us in our concentric circles.

So, you see this first giving circle represents those people, events, causes and institutions that are truly important to us. Our emotional attachment and loyalties decrease as we radiate out from ourselves and families to our local communities and causes (ex: our church, hometown, and local groups). On a very broad and conceptual basis the answer to who we give to are those people, causes and institutions that bring us the most meaning based on our life’s experiences. So, there you have the giving circle of the heart that helps us understand the object of our giving—the who we give to. Now, let's move on to the giving circle of the thinking head.

Giving Circles of the Thinking Head as an Answer to “How to Give?”

The second giving circle is more rational and practical and is of the “thinking head.” This second giving circle provides one of many answers to the “How to give?” question. As a thinking head dominant question, the answer is found in the design stage of the philanthropic giving process.

Well, what is the thinking head giving circle?

The philanthropic giving circle of the thinking head is a great tool for those hometown groups that may want to make an impact to better some condition or help some situation that is outside of themselves and their families. From within a given group, it provides the collective gathering of each individual’s gifts from their wheelhouse and, collectively and synergistically, addresses a common goal within the community.

From a common social group, this type of giving circle exists when members of the group agree to pool their collective talents, money, time, and trusted relationships to come together in a synergistic manner to benefit a common goal that is important to the group as a whole. Normally we think of giving circles in terms of money in the philanthropic sense, but it is also vitally important to understand it can go beyond money. What I mean by this is it’s important to recognize that part of the collective system includes leveraging the wheelhouse gifts of the members a community group to make a greater impact in the local community. This can best be understood through an example.

Let's say a local women's group in a relatively small town gets together and they have a desire to reach out to better their hometown. They decide to form a giving circle and collectively contribute money, time and resources with the understanding that what they want to accomplish is common to the group. Let's say the group would like to learn more about the leading-edge technique of social impact investing and community development philanthropy as a means of improving the hometown where they all live, work, play, pray and grow their families. They may pool their funds. They may reach out to trusted connections that can help them understand social impact investing and community development philanthropy, and then invest their time and talents in helping their community become a better place.

So, there you have the two types of giving circles—one of the giving heart and one of the thinking head. Each one may help answer one of the seven essential questions. Hopefully, you can better see how the personal philanthropic giving process and the seven essential questions can be used to make yourself, your family, and your local community group better givers to something outside of yourselves.

Let’s do some good!


Coming Next: Trusting Relationships - The Hidden Gem in Our Wheelhouse


©2019 Aspire to Give®. All Rights Reserved. Greg Doepke is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® and a Certified Financial Planner®. Greg serves on the Board of Directors for the International Association for Advisors in Philanthropy and as the Philanthropist in Residence at Auburn University’s Cary Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies. As the founder of Aspire to Give® Greg educates and equips individuals, families, business owners, and foundations with both traditional and leading-edge philanthropic tools and techniques for smart, meaningful, and impactful giving. You can contact Greg at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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Disclosure: Greg Doepke is the founder and principal of Aspire to Give®, a social enterprise that donates 100% of all profits to charity and is dedicated to unleashing the human spirit to advance philanthropy through donor education, social innovation, collaboration, and advocacy.
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