As you may know, my husband is in the army. I had two options:
1. I could temporarily join a traditional giving circle where people come together to support their local organizations and find a new one each time I moved.
2. I could start my own VIRTUAL giving circle. Then, I could include family and friends from around the country, and continue the circle even when I moved across the country.
A virtual giving circle requires some special thought:
- Be specific in your cause. A local giving circle can often unite around their immediate geographical area. By supporting organizations who are serving people in this community, they can limit the number of potential organizations to donate to and unite everyone under the common goal of improving their community.
In a virtual giving circle, it’s even more important to limit the number of potential organizations to be considered, because when geography is eliminated as a criteria, suddenly thousands and thousands of organizations could be chosen. It’s also important to unite the group around a common goal, because giving circle members need to feel good about supporting an organization even if they preferred a different one. The easiest way to do that is with a laser focus on the cause.
For example, one of my virtual giving circles is focused on extreme poverty. Extreme poverty is pretty broad, so we decided that we were only going to donate to organizations that provided a means out of poverty such as job training or business loans. We do understand health care and education are critical, and it’s not that we don’t want to support that work. It’s that we could all agree that as long as our donations went to help people break the cycle of poverty, then we would be happy even if the donation did not go to our favorite organization.
We could have also chosen to limit the giving circle to ending extreme poverty in a specific geographical region such as Sub-Saharan Africa. You should choose whatever focus works best for your group, but do choose a focus so all the members understand exactly what your giving circle is all about.
- Use a webmeeting feature. Building a relationship with and engaging with giving circle members is more challenging when not done face to face, so you’ll have to use whatever tools you have your disposal to help you make your members feel like they’re a part of the group.
I use Anymeeting. I like them, because they’re free. We want to keep our expenses low, so free is really important. But Anymeeting has a bunch of other great features. First, it’s a web based interface, so no one needs to download any software. I love that! Second, you can broadcast video, so people can see you while you’re talking. It’s kind of like face to face communication! The chat and polling features lets your members interact while the meeting is being held. You can turn control of the meeting to another member. This works great for our treasurer’s report, so our Treasurer can show the report on their screen to all the members.
- Pooling Donations. You’ll want to think about how to handle your pooled donations. You may have a more difficult time finding a sponsor or a foundation to hold your funds, since you won’t be tied to a specific community. However, you can search for foundations that work on the same type of cause, and see if they would be interested.
For us, we have a checking account for the giving circle and invested in a credit card merchant software. This allows us to get the contributions from all our members without having to worry about handling a bunch of checks.
At the end of the day, a virtual giving circle is as rewarding and fun as a more traditional giving circle. You’ll just to need to be very clear on your focus, spend extra special attention on involving your members, and plan for the logistics of handling the pooled donations.
Does your giving circle meet virtually? If so, care to share your advice?