The Giving Back Gang, a Cleveland-based giving circle, recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. It has engaged over 70 individual participants and generated in excess of $275,000 in grants benefitting more than two dozen nonprofit organizations.
Here are highlights on the Giving Back Gang story from my interview with founder Hank Doll – philanthropist, foundation board member and civic leader.
What motivated you to start this giving circle 15 years ago?
I was talking about my passion for philanthropy to a group of folks at my church. I mentioned how intrigued I was with the idea of a giving circle, and afterwards two people came up to me and said, “if you start one, we’re in!” So I started what I called the Giving Back Gang and here we are 15 years later.
How does the Giving Back Gang work?
Each participant is asked to make a minimum $1,000 annual contribution. Those contributions become our grant pool for the year. We invite six or seven nonprofit organizations to make a presentation which includes a one-page description and budget of how they would best use a contribution. A sub-committee of donors reviews those and asks for full proposals from several of the presenters. All the giving circle members participate in the final decision, and we usually award grants to two or three groups each year.
We have also learned a great deal by having occasional guest speakers talk to the giving circle about issues in the community. It’s helped us better understand the needs and identify groups doing good work on those problems.
What have been some of the highlights of this endeavor over the years?
There have been lots of highlights, not the least of which has been the new people I’ve met and to see people who didn’t know each other become friends through the giving circle.
We’ve also found that small grants can make a big impact! The Giving Back Gang has made so many interesting grants to nonprofit organizations throughout the Cleveland area. It’s the good work we’ve supported in the arts, environment, education, women’s issues, human services.
I’ve seen the giving circle idea catch on with others as well, even after they left ours. One person started her own giving circle and another joined that person’s group some years later. They both learned by doing.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking of starting a giving circle?
There’s a lot of organizing needed to make a giving circle work! Find people who are excited and willing to help out. I think having 15 to 20 people in the circle is ideal. Ask people to host the meetings in their homes and help with the logistics of recruiting speakers and presenters. Share the organizing work throughout the circle.
For the first seven or eight years, I collected and bundled the contributions. Since then, we established a relationship with The Cleveland Foundation which has been very helpful in centralizing the management and distribution of the contributions.
Is there anything you would have done differently over the years?
No, not really. Between the all the great people that have been involved and all the good work we’ve supported, I’m really happy with what the Giving Back Gang has been able to do.