In August of 2020, Holly Baier gathered with a group of friends for an outdoor birthday picnic and, as is her tradition, started brainstorming ideas for a bucket list for the next year. “We seek to create this master list of adventures and ways that we can change not only my life, but the world around us,” Baier said. At some point, a friend suggested starting a giving circle, and the rest of the group sparked with excitement. In the context of 2020, a year of seemingly endless catastrophe, the idea of joining with other women to make a greater impact through giving struck a chord that’s been playing ever since.
Within a few short months, Baier and three other women had partnered with The Denver Foundation to establish The Giving Forward Project (TGFP), a womxn’s giving circle that aims to fund four $10,000 grants each year. Each quarter, TGFP focuses on a particular need and prioritizes local nonprofits that address that need. Last April, TGFP delivered its first grant of $1,000 to The GrowHaus, a nonprofit indoor farm that combats food insecurity in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. Since then, the group has granted an additional $4,500.
The Giving Forward Project is one of two new women’s giving circles to launch at The Denver Foundation since the beginning of 2021. Alongside Women of Color Making a Difference (WOCMAD), the group joins the ranks of other circles of philanthropic women who make The Denver Foundation their home, including LatinasGive!, which has granted more than $143,000 since its founding, as well as March On! and The Giving “Trust” Fund. Impact 100, now an independent 501(c)(3), has its roots at the Foundation.
Giving circles represent a crucial step towards democratizing philanthropy. While The Denver Foundation provides behind-the-scenes support — researching potential grantees, managing financials, and at the circles’ direction, investing funds for greater long-term impact — giving circles are founded and defined by their members. Members make all decisions about circle identities and values, as well as how circle funds are used. In addition to the women’s groups, the Foundation hosts two men’s groups — Denver African American Philanthropists (DAAP) and Latinos Impacting Our Future Together — and recently established a new group for members of the Asain American and Pacific Islander communities.
“This is a more community-led effort,” said Genevieve Laca, The Denver Foundation’s Director of Engaged Philanthropy overseeing the circles’ management and Elevating Philanthropy in Communities of Color (EPIC). The EPIC program invested time and funding to help launch several giving circles of color listed above. “It’s family philanthropy, it’s community philanthropy, and I think it’s where we truly shine.”
Giving circles members are part of the larger Denver Foundation family, serving on the Board of Trustees, other granting committees, and utilizing other philanthropic tools for their family to give back Partnering with the Foundation enables giving circle members to write off their donations during tax season without needing to establish their own 501(c)(3).
According to Laca, Foundation-affiliated giving circles have grown over the last few years and become more creative in how they think about fundraising and grantmaking. Some have started asking for corporate gifts or matching gifts; others have collaborated in inter-circle efforts to make larger grants to individual organizations. Impact100 Metro Denver, which started as a Denver Foundation circle, graduated into its own 501(c)(3). “That’s one we’re really proud of because we incubated to a point where they were so huge that they went off to do their own thing,” Laca said. LatinasGive! recently reached a total of $100,000 in grants made after only five years of existence.
But the impact of giving circles goes beyond dollars granted. Circle members also get a closer look at the work of grantee organizations, and they have the opportunity to connect with people they may not have met otherwise. Those community connections can lead to business opportunities for entrepreneurs, participation in volunteer programs with local organizations, and a deeper understanding of the issues currently facing Denver.
“The conversations [in giving circles] seem to be very rich,” Laca said. “Hardly any of these donors see it as a transaction. It’s very rooted in their beliefs, their values.”
Setting circle values is at the top of the to-do list for Women of Color Making a Difference (WOCMAD), another new giving circle made up of 11 African American women. The circle started after its organizer, Sandra Roberts-Taylor, approached LaDawn Sullivan, Director of the Foundation’s Black Resilience in Colorado (BRIC) Fund, to find out how to get involved with an existing circle at The Denver Foundation. Sullivan told Roberts-Taylor she should start her own. The group will make its first grants this June.
WOCMAD fellow organizer Olivia Thompson says she’s seen encouraging collaboration and discussion within the group. She hopes WOCMAD will inspire other similar groups to sprout up and invest in the community. As for Roberts-Taylor: “It’s definitely gratifying to know that somewhere down the road, we are going to make a difference.”
Want to get involved with an existing giving circle? Looking to start your own? Reach out to Genevieve Laca, Director of Engaged Philanthropy, firstname.lastname@example.org, to learn more.