Many perceive philanthropy to be the exclusive domain of the super wealthy. Those people are apparently unaware of the efforts of this week’s guest on Sea Change Radio. Giving circles are a way for people of more modest means to give philanthropically – these are smaller groups of individuals who collectively allocate resources to what they deem as worthy charitable organizations and community projects. Today we are speaking with Tyeshia “Ty” Wilson, the Director of Engagement at a nonprofit called Philanthropy Together whose mission is to advance charitable giving that is people-centered and equitable. We learn all about giving circles, how her organization facilitates them, and the importance of Black-led collective giving.
00:02 Narrator – This is Sea Change Radio, covering the shift to sustainability. I’m Alex Wise.
00:17 Tyeshia Wilson – So philanthropy really helps it ushers us into community in that very strategic and intentional way. And it doesn’t matter your age, it doesn’t matter your race. It does not matter your sex, your identity, none of that matters. What area, whether you’re in a rural community or if you’re in an urban community, none of that matters. It’s all in how you are strategically and intentionally giving up yourself to serve your neighbor.
00:44 Narrator – Many perceive philanthropy to be the exclusive domain of the super wealthy. Those people are apparently unaware of the efforts of this week’s guest on Sea Change Radio. Giving circles are a way for people of more modest means to give philanthropically – these are smaller groups of individuals who collectively allocate resources to what they deem as worthy charitable organizations and community projects. Today we are speaking with Tyeshia “Ty” Wilson, the Director of Engagement at a nonprofit called Philanthropy Together whose mission is to advance charitable giving that is people-centered and equitable. We learn all about giving circles, how her organization facilitates them, and the importance of Black-led collective giving.
01:50 Alex Wise (AW) – I’m joined now on Sea Change Radio by Tyeshia “Ty” Wilson. She is the director of engagement at Philanthropy Together. Tyeshia, welcome to Sea Change Radio.
02:00 Tyeshia Wilson (TW) – Thanks, Alex, for having me. I’m happy to be here.
02:03 AW – So explain the idea behind philanthropy together and and you’re giving circle model.
02:09 TW – Yes, well, so Philanthropy Together we are a 5-year initiative, we launched in April 2020 and our mission is very, very straightforward. We’re on a bold mission to democratize and to diversify philanthropy through the power of collective giving solely focusing and predominantly we focus on giving circles and giving circles are very, very powerful tools to help us accomplish our mission to get more people engaged and collective giving and engaged in philanthropy and and provide some really. A simple entry point for folks to do so. So our organization exists solely to support giving circles. Specifically, we offer training for individuals and organizations, showing them Alex how to start giving circles, how to host them, how to sustain them, how to maintain them grow for them as well as we are in the business of just amplifying the all of the the 15, I think there’s over 3500 giving circles and counting. That was our kind of that’s that we’ve counted so far on our global giving Circle directory. So for the existing giving circles that are out there, we provide. Supportive services for them in terms of just like resource. Templates, facilitation, training, consultancy work, things like that to really help them to sustain and to grow their existing giving circles.
03:40 AW – So you’re talking about starting a giving circle. Let’s say I wanted to start one I I was passionate about an issue and I thought I could do more than just setting up a go fund me page or giving my own money. I wanted to use the power of my community. How would I connect with philanthropy together to create a giving circle?
04:03 TW – So, Alex, I know you’re passionate about environmental justice, right? You will use your example. You take your passion, so you have it in your heart. You want to start this giving circle. You would then join our lunch pad for you program. It’s a free program and we have it priced as that because we don’t want it to be a barrier of entry for especially I dive. Communities that often join, and so you’ll join lunch pack for you and you’ll receive training where we’ll show you the five primary steps that it takes to start your giving circle, and that looks like one gathering your people. So we’ll show you and work with you ways and how you’ll gather your people like-minded people that are passionate about environmental justice like you, and how you can reach them. What is that message and looks like? How do you advocate, advocate and pitch that to them to bring people? Alone, and to really to, you know, come with you and join forces with you to, as the founding team and as the, you know, the new members of the giving circle. And then once you once we, you know, work with you and train you on how to gather the folks, then the second step is really learning you guys are. Once you gather your people, Alex, you are going to talk. You are going to have some conversations about the issues around environmental just. And so philanthropy together, we train you on how to have those conversations and how to make some decision making within a collective around what organizations you all should fund, what, how they, how they, the organizations are in alignment with your values, your core values ss a group. And so that discourse piece, that second step, is a huge learning experience, especially for those who are entering philanthropy, because you’re learning about not only the issues, but also just about organizations and that are working in that space to address the issues. So you’re literally you all are learning about the issues, learning about these organizations or potential organizations that you’d like to fund and already before you have even pulled your resources, identifying the organizations that you want to fund. And I will lift up in that space. We often lift up the principles of trust based philanthropy in that learning piece where that looks like more equitable ways as funders. And now that you’re a philanthropist, we want you to fund, well, fund more equitably than how we have traditionally seen more institutionalized philanthropy fund. So you gather your folks, we show you how to do that.The third step is to then decide on where those funds should go. And So what that looks like is you all kind of really, you know, based on your values and your criteria that you’re giving circle have said, Alex y’all would then decide collectively every person has a voice. And that’s the beauty of a giving circle. Everyone would then decide who they think should receive the funding and then the fun part. The fourth piece is to then allocate out the funds. You’ll give it out once you once you decide on the organization, you’ll pull those funds together. Every giving circle is different. So maybe you know your your group. It will give $500. To this grant cycle annually, or maybe we have some giving circle that they have a model where they give a percentage of their income annually or we have some they give a dollar a day. So 365 annually it all depends on every giving circle is unique in terms of the member contribute. But what we do know is that those contributions are amplified your contribution, Alex, is amplified by the collective. So now we have more money, we have more money to give to these organizations and we do just that. And then the final final piece that you’ll learn through our lunch pad for you program is then the beyond the dollar piece. So once we gather, we discuss, we decide, we pull our resources, we give the money out. But then what else? And so that is the the beauty and the real uniqueness of giving circles is that we don’t stop at the dollar a lot of giving circles give beyond the dollar. So we look at what other ways can we support these organizations that we have funded and even the ones that we that that did not receive the funding, how can we amplify them? How can we be advocates for the work that they? We’re doing so. This is an engagement piece. This is A is a is a member engagement piece where you’re engaging your Members and you yourself, Alex, are engaging beyond the dollar and you oftentimes will hear about the 5T’s, you know, your time, your talent, your treasure, your ties, your testimony. That’s what we’re talking about in that final piece. That beyond the dollar is beyond your treasure. How can you use your ties, which are your connections? Your testimony, which is your, your voice, your advocacy to advocate for these organizations, be on the dollar. And that pretty much is it. And that all of that, those five steps, we literally go and hand hold folks through our lunch pad for you training, which in my opinion is extremely valuable for a person that is just, you know, wanting to start the giving circle, but just truly just don’t know all that it takes and the steps that’s required.
09:32 AW – So I saw on your website a TED talk from your founder and CEO, Sara Lomelin. She describes a very warm gathering where people are putting their heads together to try to find giving targets, recipients. I couldn’t help but think that you started this right at the cusp of a global pandemic. How did that affect your launch in terms of starting to look at these gatherings as a combination of these dinners versus a zoom call.
10:10 TW – That’s a great question because you know a lot of getting circles, including mine. I have a I’m a member chair like of a giving circle here based in Dallas. And we were meeting often pre pandemic. We were in person having fun and that energy cannot be replaced. But that was a challenge. For us, when we launched in 2020, but I think it also with the quarantine and with everything shut down it really. Allowed us to reach. Expand our reach not just to the US, but globally. Because folks were online, folks were online and still wanting to be in community. And so that really is that are, you know, the pandemic and just you know post post COVID mangagement really worked hard advantage in 2020. Because we saw record numbers of folks sign up. Actually, that was those were our highest numbers back then in 2020-2021 for lunch pad for you and host. Because people were, you know, looking to still be engaged, still move, move the needle for social change, but weren’t able, you know, to safely do it in person. And so our training program, which is all all of our programs is all virtual and will remain it. You know, we’ll keep it that way. For the boat. But we have, you know, since then, we now have even been doing in person, giving circle trainings as well as pop-up giving circle experiences and offering trainings at conferences and things like that. But you know, just again going back to your question, the at that time and sat her talk, she talks about that how the model was really you know of course in person because that’s what it was pre pandemic but we saw more giving circles launch, virtual giving circles more people. Joining giving circles virtually and a lot of giving circles just adjusted to the times and and you know. So for virtual meetings and things like that, we just we just we all adjusted the movement adjusted to the time and so did we and I think we were successful in that way.
12:20 (Music Break)
00:13:11 AW – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio and I’m speaking to Tyeshia “Ty” Wilson. She is the director of engagement at Philanthropy Together. So you were talking at the outset, Tyeshia, about the five year plan for your organization. You’re in year three now. What happens in a couple of years? Are you planning on having discrete 5 year cycles or is the organization going to change significantly in a couple of years?
13:42 TW – Just being fully transparent, the legacy of Philanthropy Together is still in question as of right now we are solid and we’re solid in our plan to be a 5 year initiative. However, we are thinking very fluidly and flex like very fluidly and deeply about where our programs could be housed, where could they live? Should we satellites? Should we sunset? I mean in 2025? And what that looks like for the field. The great thing for us is that Philanthropy Together, we were created as, as you know from the brain child of giving circle networks as well as some more philanthropists and funders or whatnot, you know came together and exceptionalist the idea about the organization serving as the hub to strengthen the giving circle movement and that’s how we form, so that being. Said the giving circle networks. And there is over 20 giving circle networks like the Community investment network that was one of our founding networks, which is a a network of Black-led giving circles. The Latino Community Foundation, which is a network of Hispanic-led giving circle. So all of these are a huge women’s giving circle network. These are our partners and so no matter what I think. With Launchpad and our services and our program, whether they continue to exist and plan to be together, should funding and all of that such align up for us to do so? That would be great, but then the other opportunity exists with just with us leaning into and flowing our resources and the program and services, that’s the opportunity. For our networks to kind of pick that up. Or other partners, other strategic partners that that are aligned with kind of what we’re doing, we still are thinking about that, Alex. But I think for right now, we are still moving very heavily forward with this kind of with this mission to democratize and diversify philanthropy and get as many people involved and as and to start as many giving circles as possible. We did set a goal, you know, when we when we launched or whatnot, there was about. 1515 hundred giving circles that research kind of showed that was existing and so we hope to double those numbers within our five years and so our goal to double that original 1500 giving circles, that’s just something that we’re we’re just going to continue to pursue and the sky is the limit in terms of where our programs could live and where our work will reside post the five years, should we not continue for it?
16:35 AW – So Tyeshia, we were just talking about the nature of philanthropy. And you said everybody’s a philanthropist, ultimately. The word philanthropy is kind of a mercurial word. Usually people think of some Rockefeller type who’s a philanthropist, and it’s these titans of industry who are able to kind of do their trickle-down economics by doling out their treasures to the museums or to those in need. Why don’t you talk about how your organization is trying to redefine that word and what it means specifically for the Black-led philanthropy movement in this country?
17:16 TW – Yes, part of part of you know, I I I did share that you know we truly believe that everyone is our philanthropist and that. You’re absolutely right, Alex. When a lot of us think about philanthropists, we think of rich, white, wealthy men, honestly. And that is just, that’s just not accurate. That is just not accurate. When I think about, I talk often about Black philanthropy and I we have to start with the history. We have to go back before we even talk about kind of present day narrative change and why folks should start seeing themselves as philanthropy in response to just having and being without giving in, the Black community has always underscored a deep sense of accountability and a deep love for one’s community. And that’s what philanthropy is. It’s the love for others. It’s the love for community. It’s love at the heartbeat of it. And when I think about Black giving and Black philanthropy even. Our it’s it’s a part of who we are. Because traditionally we have all our history is so rooted in giving because we we have to, we have to rely on one another. Black communities have always had these very robust networks and very mobilized organization to address our community needs, but we not have not always used the word philanthropist so whether it was pulling resources together to, you know, feed the community or watching one another’s child, or raising a sibling or something like that. We all are philanthropic, but we have never owned that name a lot. A lot of Black philanthropists and we don’t see ourselves as that.
19:10 AW – So, too much of the word philanthropy has kind of obscured the basic idea of generosity and altruism, and everybody has that in them (hopefully)?
19:20 TW – I hope so. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what we’re trying to tell the people that you are a philanthropist and how you show up for your neighbor. How you show up for your community. There’s no prerequisite to philanthropy. Philanthropy meets you exactly where you are, exactly where you are, and rather it is you using you, you do not have to be wealthy to give and to contribute to the causes that you care about. You don’t have to you sharing a post, advocating using your time, talent. And your volunteer, your skill sets for an organization that really could use their website or revamp of their website, and you’re a marketing professional and you offer pro bono service for that organization that is philanthropic. You are philanthropist by using your time and going to go volunteer for organize. So through our work at philanthropy together, that’s why we say every we truly believe everyone is a philanthropist because it’s not all about money. Yes, it’s about money, but that’s the more, you know, institutionalized view of philanthropy is that it’s just about the money. It’s the big wealthy folks that give money to communities of need. But when we really think about what it means like power to the people, this is you showing up for community in a way that’s meaningful and significant to you. And being very strategic and intentional with how you use those 5T’s that I keep saying and how you show up for your community in all of those various ways. And we are saying count that count that as philanthropic count that time that you allocate out to count that advocacy. You’re out here protesting in the streets that is philanthropic that has changed. And that is restoring and helping people to utilize and actualize their power. And I believe I truly believe I personally I believe more than ever we need more people to to recognize the power that we hold. With within ourselves, and also for one another, if I can, you know, be of service up to you and in some way of form, we’re all well, we’re all better off when we’re all better off, right. We all know you’ve probably heard that we are all better off and we’re all better off. So philanthropy really helps it ushers us into community in that very strategic and intentional way, and it doesn’t matter your age, it doesn’t matter. It does not matter your sex, your identity, none of that matters. What area, whether you’re in a rural community or if you’re in an urban community, none of that matters. It’s all in how you are strategically and intentionally giving up yourself to serve your neighbor. I give it to.
22:21 (Music Break)
22:54 AW – This is Alex Wise on Sea Change Radio and I’m speaking to Tyeshia “Ty” Wilson. She’s the director of engagement at Philanthropy Together. So you explained how a giving circle would come together and walked us through some of the process. But if you can dive a little deeper into the decision making. Process like how you decide whether to give to, let’s say, at this giving circle, they’re discussing 3 or 4 domestic violence nonprofits. Are you trying to then narrow down to just one to give two, or do you have several categories maybe that you want to do beyond domestic violence and then, as a postscript to that question, does this giving circle meet the next year and then have some measurables to use barometers for success for their giving, saying all right, we we hope that this organization would do XY&Z and those metrics. So let’s double down and are giving for next year or vice versa, let’s say they didn’t really do what you wanted and let’s look at a different organization, maybe if you can kind of walk us through the details of that, that’d be helpful.
23:58 Tyeshia Wilson (TW) – Yeah, OK. So every given circle is different, but all of them it is a collective decision regarding the organizations you. So what that means is as we know, the more money your pot, the more the more pool donations that the giving circle has really kind of determines the amount of the gift to the organization. Like for them to decide well, should we give $10,000 to one organization or should we get you know. Or do we split the organizations and give ten $1000? Every giving circle is different, and the criteria in in which the giving circle decides on the organizations that apply for that funding varies. Some giving circles, Alex, don’t even have an application. Some of them do video interviews where the nonprofit just pitched them and talk about their needs. And then the giving circle they bring that back. The Group decides, they vet the organizations, the all in alignment of their values and the parameters that the group have set, which we train folks in Launchpad. But based on the parameters that the giving circle has set. So for my giving circle, we are a circle of women and that we support Black women-led nonprofit organizations with budgets less than 500K, so that determines that’s our criteria, right? So that determines. Then the organizations that we kind of weed out if they’re in alignment. Do you serve women and girls? Is the organization budget less than 500K that varies per circle, but that is the criteria. From that, in terms of, once we allocate out the gifts, again every circle is different, but that accountability varies per circle.
25:45 AW – How big is the average giving circle? Do you do you recommend like having at least 10 people or is it a 200 person max? Give us an idea of what the range ideally is.
25:56 TW -Yeah. So 25 to 50 is the is the average range for a given circle. However, you do have very large giving circles with 100 plus members like those impact 100 giving circles that exist out there. So you do have the larger ones. Those are kind of fewer in between than the ones that are within that sweet spot of about 25 to 50 members. In my giving circle, we have about 57 ladies and we launched in 2017. So we kind of slow growth, but yeah, 25 to 50 is that sweet spot number. We try to suggest that because again the money that is moved is contingent on the amount members.
26:43 AW – Does everybody give the same or how do you decide, “hey, if you’re going to be part of this giving circle, be prepared to give at least $500 a year or whatever?”
26:52 TW – So every again every circle is different in terms of their member contributions. Most of them, and I shared this earlier. Some of them are income percentage. So every member that joins that circle give 1% of their income. Some of them have tiered membership levels like my giving circle. We have two, we have a $500.00 level and we have $1000, so depending on what you can give you flow yourself into a level you have some that is just set. They don’t have tiered membership. You know contributions levels. It’s just like a dollar a day or $10.00 a month or whatever the case. It just depends on the given circle. But what all of them have is that every member that does join and that does contribute is entitled to one vote in terms of the decision making and where those funds should go.
27:50 AW – She’s the director of engagement at philanthropy together, Tyeshia “Ty” Wilson. Tyeshia, thanks so much for being my guest on Sea Change Radio.
27:58 TW -Thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure talking to you.
28:17 Narrator – You’ve been listening to Sea Change Radio. Our intro music is by Sanford Lewis, and our outro music is by Alex Wise. Additional music by Zero 7, Anita Baker and the Grateful Dead. To read a transcript of this show, go to SeaChangeRadio.com stream or download the show or subscribe to our podcast on our site or visit our archives to hear from Doris Kearns Goodwin, Gavin Newsom, Stewart Brand and many others. And tune in to Sea Change Radio next week as we continue making connections for sustainability. For Sea Change Radio, I’m Alex Wise.