Giving Circles, Amplified


Giving Circles, the hottest trend in Jewish philanthropy, now have an official website.

The Natan Fund, a giving circle of young Jewish professionals in New York (known as the “Wall Street” giving circle), this week announced the launch of Amplifier, an online platform that allows Jewish-inspired giving circles around the world to connect and share resources.

The website,, allows Jewish giving circles to register and easily peruse organizations looking for grants. It also provides a resource library, in-person mentoring programs, and, one of the site’s most valuable resources, a common grant application, ending the need for organizations to apply separately to every potential funder.

Giving circles — groups of individual donors who pool their money and decide together where these funds should be distributed — have been steadily growing in number. A recent study on the impact of giving circles nationwide conducted by the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers indicates that giving circles have boomed in the last decade, becoming a philanthropic force all their own. Jewish giving circles have been part of this trend.

Thirty-three giving circles have already registered on the Amplifier website, and 121 organizations have posted profiles and filled out the common grant application. Several giving circles from other countries, including Australia, Britain and Israel, have also registered on the site.

And, according to Natan’s executive director Felicia Herman, these numbers only capture a small part of the giving circle universe.

“We hope Amplifier will bring giving circles out of the woodwork,” said Herman, who has been working with Natan since 2005.

Richard Marker, co-principal of Wise Philanthropy, a consulting firm for philanthropists, said the appeal of giving circle today has to do with a growing distrust of bureaucracy.

“There is a deep-seated cynicism towards the perceived bureaucracy in big institutions,” said Marker. “Sitting down with a group of peers, making decisions with credibility, and feeling a sense of ownership over the giving process is what’s fueling the giving circle trend.”

Marker also said giving circles are one of the few cases where Jewish philanthropists are leading the larger philanthropic world.

“The Jewish world has been up in front — it’s quite impressive,” said Marker, who is also a professor of philanthropy at New York University.

Giving circles are not just for professionals, they’re also appealing to adolescents. There are 106 Jewish teen giving circles according to Stefanie Zelkind, director of the Jewish Teen Funders Network.

“Giving circles give attention to younger people, empowering them to make decisions. That’s a positive development,” said Marker.

A study conducted by the Rose Youth Foundation, a community foundation in Denver, showed that 88 percent of teen alumni served in nonprofit leadership roles following their participation in the foundation’s philanthropic programming, with 41 percent participating in a Jewish charity or nonprofit. Eighty-seven percent of alumni said participation in the foundation’s giving circle strengthened their connection to Jewish values, and 90 percent of alumni said participation strengthened their connection to Jewish giving.

“People want transparency,” Herman said. “Would you rather write a check to an umbrella organization and never know where your contribution went, or buy a cow for a women in Uganda and get reports on how your contribution transformed her family?”

Contemporary givers have different expectations, she said. “We’ve grown accustomed to total information in all things. Why shouldn’t that apply to giving?”