Let me count the ways… Seriously, it’s a lot. I’ve talked with dozens of giving circles around the country, and it still amazes me that each one does something different and unique. This is especially true when it comes to how a giving circle chooses where they will donate their pooled funds.
Some giving circles are very casual about how they give out money. These techniques work great for smaller giving circles, those just starting up, or those who don’t want to spend a lot of time researching charities or administering 501c3 paperwork.
Some giving circles have very sophisticated methods for soliciting grant proposals, researching those proposals, and then voting on which grant proposals to fund. These circles are often larger because they require more volunteer commitment.
And then there’s everything in between. You should feel comfortable picking and choosing what works best for you and your giving circle.
Here are a few of the methods I’ve discovered while interviewing giving circle leaders across the country.
A member purchases as many raffle tickets as she likes, and if her raffle ticket is chosen, she chooses the charity. If the raffle is large, more than one ticket/winner can be chosen and the donation is split between all the winners.
Members submit the name of their favorite charity on a slip of paper which goes in a hat or a box. A piece of paper is chosen at random and that charity receives the donation.
Random + Vote
Members submit the name of their favorite charity on a slip of paper which goes in a hat or a box. 3 names are chosen from the hat, the member who nominated that charity speaks to the circle and makes the case for why the circle should choose that charity. After all the speeches, members vote for one of the three charities. The charity with the most votes receives the donation.
Simple Majority Vote
Charities are nominated through an agreed procedure. Each member casts one vote for one of the nominated charities. The charity with the most votes receives the donation.
Simple Majority Vote with Split Funds
Charities are nominated through an agreed procedure. Each member casts one vote for one of the nominated charities. The charity with the most votes receives a donation for a set amount (possibly the amount they asked for in their grant request or an amount agreed upon by the circle), the second charity receives a donation for a set amount (possibly the amount they asked for in their grant request or an amount agreed upon by the circle). This continues down the line until no more funds are available.
Instant Run-Off Voting
Charities are nominated through an agreed procedure. Members rank the charities in order of preference, and their ballots are counted as one vote for their first choice candidate. If a charity secures more than 50% of votes cast, that charity wins. Otherwise, the charity with the fewest votes is eliminated.
A new round of counting takes place, with each ballot counted as one vote for the advancing candidate who is ranked highest on that ballot. This process continues until one charity has more votes than the other charities combined, and then that charity is declared the winner.
Yea or Nay
The members are presented with a charity or project and asked if they would like to fund it. Members vote yea or nay and the project is funded if it receives a majority of yea votes. This works well with giving circles who do not feel they need to donate all of their money on a specific schedule.
While most giving circles are member driven, a few have board choose the charity(ies). Sometimes, the board merely ratifies what the members have already chosen while reserving the right to make changes. Sometimes, the members have presented a few charities that they like best, and the board chooses among those. And sometimes, the board chooses the charity(ies) through any of the procedures I’ve covered above.