Generosity Forum – a collective giving conversation

As you know, my focus recently has been on giving circles and collective giving. So I was very happy to attend the Generosity Forum: Conversations in Changing Philanthropy this week to hear Tom Hull from the Funding Network, Gillian Hund from the Melbourne Women’s Fund and Rikki Andrews from Impact100 Melbourne in conversation about collective giving.

melbb womens fund

Melbourne Women’s Fund was started by Gillian Hund and Pat Burke, who met while studying the Masters of Social Investment at Swinburne University.  They were inspired by hearing Colleen Willoughby, from the Washington Women’s Foundation,  who is  known as the mother of giving circles in the US.  Colleen was in Australia as a guest of the Australian Women Donors Network in 2012.  After one year of planning, the Melbourne Women’s Fund launched and now has 120 members.

funding network

The Funding Network grew out of an idea developed in the UK where a group of four philanthropists met in 2002 inviting people with early stage projects to come and speak to them to help them make decisions about how to allocate their funds.  The Funding Network enables people to become involved in philanthropy without being a high net worth donor.  Organisations pitch and the audience pledges support.  The model was brought to Australia by Lisa Cotton and the Funding Network has just celebrated funding their 101st project.


Impact100 Melbourne was established after inspiration from James Boyd’s visit to the US researching collective giving, which led to  the creation of Impact100 WA.  In 2012,James spoke at a Swinburne Philanthropy Alumni event. A group of young people working in the philanthropy area liked the idea, got permission to use the Impact100 model, and decided to  jump straight in.

Collective giving makes philanthropy more accessible, enabling people to become engaged through learning about philanthropy and charitable organisations.  Technology facilitates collective giving by allowing people come together to support projects through sites such as Kiva and StartSomeGood.

Collective giving is great for younger people, particularly those in their 30s to 40s.  It gives people a major donor feeling and for some people a $1,000 contribution to a giving circle (both Impact100 Melbourne and Melbourne Women’s Fund have a $1,000 membership contribution – tax deductible) is a major personal gift.  In a way collective giving enables people to practise philanthropy so that they will be well informed and well educated in their giving in later years when they may have more disposable income.

Impact100 Melbourne’s model is to raise $100,000 each year for one significant grant.  In some years this amount has been exceeded through support from generous donors, which enables smaller grants to be made to other applicants.  Rikki noted that Impact100 South Australia has 230 members, so is able to make more grants (and in the US some of the Impact100 groups have 1000 members and make 10 large grants each year).

Tom noted that the burgeoning interest in collective giving is part of a continuum for example 10 x 10 requires a commitment of $100, live pledging at the Funding Network can be $100 – $200, and then giving circles have a minimum $1,000.  Collective giving is thus open to people at different stages in their capacity to give.

Tom also noted that there is both competition – or perhaps the better word is choice – and collaboration in the sector.  Many members of Impact100 Melbourne are also members of Melbourne Women’s Fund and vice versa.

While the Funding Network is set up as a charitable organisation with paid staff, most of the giving circles in Australia are run by volunteers.  Gillian said it is important to share the load so that founders don’t get burned out, and that it is like running a small enterprise.  It is important to attract membership who want to be involved and to make it enjoyable to keep them involved.  Melbourne Women’s Fund has a considerable number of women who want to join their committees and this is important for sustainability and succession planning.  There are opportunities for leadership – and Rikki mentioned that everyone who had been part of the initial founders of Impact100 Melbourne have now moved onto more senior roles in the sector.  There is a time commitment – Melbourne Women’s Fund asks members for a three year commitment though they now have one life member.

Aspirations for collective giving include finding more corporate friends who might be able to get their staff and clients to come on board or encourage workplace giving and matched giving.

The Funding Network can’t rely on philanthropic trusts to keep their organisation going, and are considering licensing their model.  They currently retain 10% of the funds raised at pitches and now offer a pitch coaching service as one form of revenue.

Collective giving in Australia has a connected and collegiate feel to it.  Rikki talked about the other Impact100 groups here, noting the recent launch of Impact100 Sydney, and the Brisbane group, Women & Change.  She felt it was a bonus that now if people are moving interstate, they can move from one collective giving group to another, as there are groups now in WA, SA, VIC, NSW and QLD.

Gillian noted that there are members in common across the giving circles which is an indication of how well they are working together, and the interface between them is not competitive.  Tom also noted that there is collaboration in finding organisations to support.

The focus for each of these groups is slightly different.  The Funding Network supports organisations that have income of less than $1,000,000 who are trying to affect social change.  Impact100 Melbourne has a different theme each year –  this year it is “Melbourne – Diverse and Inclusive” while the Melbourne Women’s Fund consistently looks at health and wellbeing for women and their families.

One issue raised for discussion was the idea of dissent.  The general consensus was that giving circles are about democracy and that they try to be as transparent and open as possible.  People understand that they are member-driven and that they can be involved as much as they like.  With Impact100 Melbourne, all of the members vote on where the grants are distributed (though a selection process is undertaken by a grantmaking committee –which is open for any member to join).   With the Melbourne Women’s Fund, people come with an open mind and are able to champion their passions and interests, but these must fit the profile for the grantmaking.

The aim for the Funding Network is to raise at least $10,000 for each organisation which pitches at their events and all of their organisations are grassroots, with incomes less than $1,000,000.  So far, the smallest amount they have raised has been $40,000, and the largest, helped with matched giving has been $270,000.

This year Impact100 Melbourne is on track to have raised $500,000 since 2013, and the Melbourne Women’s Fund will be giving out their signature and nurturing grants in July which will take their collective giving since they started to $200,000.

Do you belong to a giving circle?  What do you think are the benefits and disadvantages?  What do you think about the fact that they have been springing up all over the place in the last three years? Is there something in the water? Let me know your thoughts.

This piece also appears in Generosity: the online resource dedicated to nurturing, promoting and inspiring a greater culture of giving in Australia.  Generosity held its first forum in Melbourne this week.  I attended with a discount on my conference fee in exchange for some writing .



About ozphilanthropy

#Philanthropy. #arts Posts by Sharon Nathani, PhD candidate at the Centre for Social Impact, Swinburne focussing on philanthropic funders of the arts. Sharon's study is supported through an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.
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