How One Giving Circle Makes Philanthropy a Family Affair

There’s just something about giving circles that warms the philanthropic heart.

The concept is simple. Friends or families to pool donations so their contributions can have a bigger impact with the organizations awarded grants. When they work like they’re intended, giving circles are among the purest, most egalitarian forms of philanthropy. Members come together to vet grant applications, choose finalists and then have an equal vote over who makes the cut. There’s no bureaucracy, no predetermined agenda to fulfill, just a desire to do good.

JFN recently hosted a webinar with Nancy Astor Fox, the co-founder of the two-year-old Acharai Fund, a giving circle in suburban Philadelphia. Acharai, which means “follow me” in Hebrew, has 43 families, some of whom have never been involved in philanthropy before.

“This is added dollars and added giving, not taking away from other charities or nonprofits,” Fox said. “We were not looking to replace any existing organization.”

Each family contributes $5,000, a number Fox said “was significant and meaningful,” but did not preclude others from joining the all-volunteer group. The funds go exclusively toward projects in Israel, including a playground for children with cancer, 10,000 hot meals for the elderly poor, support services for wounded IDF soldiers, and an Arab and Jewish girls’ basketball team in Haifa (above).

When Fox says the giving circle is made up of families she means just that. The children—teenagers to fortysomethings—are often closely involved with their parents in making funding decisions, to the point that this “next gen” group chooses an area of focus for one of the fund’s four annual grants. The first went toward building a dining room for a children’s home in Netanya.

“We wanted to focus on some areas that may not be on everyone’s radar as much as some others,” Fox said. “We really can have a huge impact.”

Even for funders who typically deal in larger amounts than giving circles, belonging to one can lend a new perspective to philanthropy and facilitate what JFN members love to do—network. Fox said many of the families didn’t know one another before joining Acharai. They do now. And eight recipients in Israel are better off as a result.