From giving circles to family learnings 

Fri, 28 Jul 2023

In the second of our series of articles about Philanthropy Australia’s New Gen Study Tour to New York, Bella Conyngham, Associate Engagement Manager NSW and ACT, explores further key themes. Following our look at trust-based philanthropy, we dig into two growing areas that will play a role in shaping the future of philanthropy: giving circles and engaging the next generation in family giving. 

During the trip in June 2023, myself and colleague Rachel Findlay, Director of Impact and Engagement for NSW and ACT, hosted 13 other participants as we held forums with the Ford Foundation, United Nations Foundation and the Global Impact Investing Network, among other global leaders in the space.  

Trust-based philanthropy was the leading theme of the discussions, with participatory grantmaking, diversity, equity and inclusion, impact investing and capacity building also featuring as strong contenders. Giving circles and engaging the next generation in family giving stood out as themes of particular relevance to the New Gen audience but also for the direction of the sector overall, and we met a number of organisations doing impressive work in these fields.  

New Gen Study Tour participants in New York City, June 2023 

The power of giving circles: If you want to go far – go far together 

Giving circles have garnered significant attention in recent years, and for a good reason. These unique philanthropic models were highlighted on our study tour by the likes of the New York Community Trust, who bring together like-minded individuals, families or organisations, pooling their resources to make a collective impact. As a collaborative approach, giving circles enable participants to leverage their combined contributions to support causes that resonate with their shared values and interests. 

The strength of giving circles lies not only in their financial impact but also in the sense of community they foster. Participants often engage in open dialogue, discussions, debates and votes over what to fund, deepening their understanding of the issues at hand and identifying innovative solutions. Furthermore, giving circles provide an entry point for individuals (at a more accessible financial point) who might be new to philanthropy or unsure about which organisations to fund. The support and guidance of the collective can empower newcomers to engage in philanthropy confidently. Examples of giving circles in Australia include: The Sydney Women’s Fund, Melbourne Women’s Fund and Groundswell Giving. Learn more about collective giving on our website here. 

Study tour case study: New York Community Trust 

The New York Community Trust’s largest giving circle, WellMet Philanthropy, is dedicated to helping nascent grassroots not-for-profits (NFPs) in New York serve their communities. Over 25 years, the circle has made more than $3.4 million in grants to nearly 200 organisations. WellMet members (women of all ages and backgrounds) work together to recommend grants to promising direct service organisations that are often not yet on the radar of larger funders. Members meet with NFP leaders, connect them with resources, and stay in touch. Many of the members provide additional support to the grantees through their individual donor-advised funds. 

“It’s incredibly fun and energising to work with smart, interesting, committed women who love New York and want to get outside their comfort zone,” said Joan Rosenthal, the president of the group. “I think this work has a real impact. Through these organisations, we can make a difference in people’s lives.” 

Engaging the next generation in family giving 

It’s not an overstatement to say the future of philanthropy will be shaped in profound ways by the emerging group of next generation donors. During our study tour, we heard that one of the most vital considerations for philanthropic families is the involvement of the next generation in family giving. This is consistent with what we hear in Australia from members – many finding it a challenge to involve their succeeding family members. We understand that involving younger family members in the process of giving ensures the continuity and sustainability of the family’s philanthropic legacy. However, to achieve this, fostering a culture of learning, communication and collaboration within the family is essential. 

Younger generations often have different perspectives and passions. Encouraging them to share their ideas and interests helps in expanding the family’s philanthropic focus. Organising regular family meetings, workshops and site visits to understand existing and potential grantees can foster a sense of ownership and purpose among the younger members. The study tour highlighted that by actively involving them in decision-making and supporting them into learning relevant learning opportunities, they gain valuable insight into what kind of donors they want to be, with the tools to craft their philanthropic identities. Doing so could also encourage productive conversations that get different generations outside of their comfort zone.  

Philanthropy Australia runs a New Generation of Giving Network to support the new wave of family members from philanthropic families and philanthropy professionals in their 20s and 30s to chart their own course. We also run a Peer Network for family and staff members of family foundations and private ancillary funds (PAFs), which encourages intergenerational participation and learning. 

Study tour case study: Surdna Foundation 

Recognising the importance of involving the next generation in the family legacy, the Board of Directors launched the Andrus Family Philanthropy Program (AFPP) in 2000 to engage and involve its larger family, particularly its younger generations, in philanthropy and public service. Its cornerstone programs are open to Andrus family members and children of Surdna staff.  

The program includes the Andrus Family Fund (AFF), which was established to provide opportunities for younger family members to learn about, govern and participate in organised philanthropy. The AFF Board is made up of Surdna family and community members between the ages of 25-45 who are encouraged to take part in decision-making and make the Surdna Foundation board “uncomfortable” by challenging them on traditional ways of doing things. Other opportunities for family members include several training and mentorship programs through direct community service, board experience training and social justice online learning programs. 

New Gen Study Tour participants visiting the Surdna Foundation and Andrus Family Fund offices in New York City, June 2023 

The study tour to New York only deepened our understanding of the need to stay in step with the globally changing trends and approaches to best practice philanthropy. To continue our learning, New Gen Network members are invited to join us for an event focused on lessons in progressive philanthropy and impact investing from the study tour, where we will hear from New York City-based expert Antony Bugg-Levine.   

New Gen Network event 

New Gen Network: Global Lessons in Progressive Philanthropy and Impact Investing  

Thursday 10 August, 10.30am | Hybrid: Sydney and Zoom