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 What is Collective Giving Grantmaking?

Collective Giving Grantmaking is a rapidly growing, grassroots, philanthropic movement that empowers women to join together, invest their financial resources and strengthen their communities.

This collaborative and democratic form of philanthropy provides a structured platform for individuals who want to join an organization, which pools their money and awards large, transformative grants to nonprofits in their own communities. Collective giving grantmaking organizations offer member education and grantmaking training that leads to informed, strategic philanthropic giving and promotes increased civic and community engagement.

Sometimes known as “giving circles,” most collective giving grantmaking groups are women-centric and have similar goals and shared desires for enriching their communities. Some organizations focus on specific giving areas; others give in a broad variety of categories. Most share the following elements:

  • Pooled fund made up of members’ equal contributions collected annually
  • Formal grantmaking process led by members, including hands-on member training to ensure informed, strategic philanthropic giving
  • Democratic decision-making process that includes voting by the membership to select annual grant recipients
  • Commitment to support large-scale and/or transformative grantmaking
  • Commitment to women’s leadership opportunities and expanded members’ knowledge of informed philanthropy
  • Simple requirement that members contribute a specified amount annually and vote in yearly elections to select grantees 
  • Educational forums and /or training for members, as well as annual grant review committees that track grant effectiveness for those organizations awarded
  • Voluntary governance and operating boards that minimize infrastructure expenses
  • Members decide their own level of involvement 


Just as a pebble dropped in water forms a series of concentric circles, spreading outwardly, collective giving grantmaking organizations create ripple effects by expanding the impact of philanthropy.  Their members are inspired to: 

• Give more, on average, than donors who do not give collectively
• Give to promote a vision of change based on solid research about potential grantees and community need
• Make multi-year gifts
• Contribute to a larger number of organizations
• Become more active and informed philanthropists
• Serve as leaders, volunteers, and advocates for nonprofits in their communities
Collective giving grantmaking organizations strengthen communities in numerous ways, especially by creating new, enduring, and local sources of funding for the common good. These organizations have developed reputations for vigorous vetting processes resulting in strategic, impactful grantmaking.  This intentional philanthropy often provides informal seals of approval that stimulate additional funding sources for the grantees. 


No two collective giving groups are exactly alike. Each independent organization reflects the needs of its own community, the vision of its founders, and the passion of its members. The geographical reach differs among organizations. Some give only within city limits, while others expand grantmaking statewide, with many variations in between. All share the goal of connecting their member-driven grants with the needs of the communities they serve.

Although collective giving happens in many ways, three of the most notable and innovative examples of Collective Giving Grantmaking organizations within the Philanos membership are:

Washington Women’s Foundation (WaWF) was founded by Colleen Willoughby to create a new community asset to educate and expand the pool of women in philanthropy. As a vehicle for women’s enhanced participation in philanthropy, it provides members the opportunity and tools to participate in large-impact grantmaking. Every member of WA Women’s Foundation makes an annual tax-deductible contribution of $2,500. The majority of this amount is directly applied to grant making; all of it powers the transformative work WaWF influences in each other and in communities across the state. Member-led committees vet grants. All members are asked to vote on a final ballot with proposals for funding in each of the following areas: arts and culture, education, environment, health, and human services and the grants are awarded to organizations all over the state.   Each year, one $100,000 Pooled Fund Grant Award is made in each of these five categories. To date, more than 1,000 WWF members have granted over $18 million over 25 years.  

Of equal importance to large-scale grantmaking in the WaWF model is robust educational programming designed to both inform members and enhance their influence as community leaders. It operates as a 501(c)3 with a governance board supported by a small staff. In 2002, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, WWF published Something Ventured to describe how the model could be replicated and adapted to fit the needs of other communities. The WaWF model has inspired the creation of at least 16 other similar organizations in the U.S., as well as others in Australia and China.

The  Impact 100 model is another popular form of women’s collective giving grantmaking that has been replicated around the U.S. in some 38 locales with another 12 in development. Wendy Steele founded the first organization in Cincinnati. The Impact 100 model is based on gathering 100 or more women, each contributing $1,000.  As organizations grow – some groups have as many as 500 members – multiple grants are generally given out in $100,000 increments. There is a one-member-one-vote policy for selecting grantees. In some communities, pooled contributions that exceed $100,000 are given in smaller grants to help jump start initiatives and create pilot programs.

Impact 100 groups are primarily volunteer-driven. Most operate as a 501(c)3 with a governance and operating board. Some are hosted by a community foundation.  These groups endeavor to harness the diverse skills and talents of their members, while also helping them to develop leadership skills and learn about philanthropic best practices. Members have the opportunity to serve on a grant review committee, and to participate in every aspect of the organization as their interest, time, and resources allow.

Baltimore Women’s Giving Circle(BWGC), an early and dynamic example of a giving circle model, was founded by Pam Corckran and Shelley Goldseker. They named the organization to reflect their own core values: a Baltimore-focused, women-only organization that patterned its governance on Sondra Shaw-Hardy’s handbook, Creating a Women’s Giving Circle. They were drawn to the concept of a collaborative philanthropic vehicle that allowed each member an equal opportunity to be engaged and provided a level playing field for giving. A fund of the Baltimore Community Foundation, each member contributes $1,150 yearly to the Giving Circle Fund. They have granted over $4 million since 2001. Organized similarly to the models described above, BWCG is committed to developing better grantmakers through education and participation in the grantmaking process. Co-chairs, elected every two years by the membership, lead the BWGC and are responsible for overseeing the Circle’s affairs and its relationship with the Baltimore Community Foundation (BCF). Circle co-chairs conduct monthly steering committee meetings with other officers as well as co-chairs of each committee.


There are many models of women’s philanthropic groups-- for example, women-powered organizations that focus on “high capacity donors.” Along with millions of dollars, these groups unleash talent, transformative actions, and shared learning to create impact. These women use their money to create solutions.

We believe the collective giving grantmaking movement is scaling because this local, organically driven effort can be replicated in any size community by women who desire to  make real impact in their communities by collectively deploying both their financial and intellectual resources.

 ABOUT Philanos :

Philanos, formerly know as, The Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network (WCGN), was formed in 2009 to support the creation, development, and expansion of collective giving grantmaking nationwide.
Open to all collective giving grantmaking organizations, the Philanos network connects a fast-growing movement of community-minded women who recognize the exponential power of aggregating their money to make high-impact grants while also, becoming philanthropic leaders in their own communities. 

Philanos' mission is to support the creation, development, and expansion of women’s collective giving grantmaking nationwide.


In 2009, Colleen Willoughby, founder of Seattle’s Washington Women's Foundation (WWF) and widely recognized as the founder of the collective giving grantmaking movement, organized a meeting with collective giving leaders from all over the country. Soon the Women’s Collective Giving Grantmakers Network (WCGN), now Philanos, was born as an umbrella organization, volunteer-led and virtual, open to all collective giving organizations.
Philanos now leads a fast-growing movement of community-minded women who recognize the exponential power of grantmaking with pooled dollars.


In the fall of 2009, WCGN, as it was known then, initiated its flagship program, a series of monthly educational calls (September–May), and committed to holding regular conferences. To date over 120 programs, now webinars, have been conducted on topics such as grant evaluation, membership retention and recruitment, technology and social media, and governance and strategic planning. 

Our first conference was hosted by then WCGN member, San Diego Women’s Foundation, in March 2011 in coordination with its 10-year anniversary. More than 90 women attended. By this time, more than 20 collective giving grantmaking organizations belonged to the Network.* Since then, WCGN conferences have been held every 18 months, including in Austin, hosted by Impact Austin, and in St. Louis, hosted by Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund. In October 2015, WCGN’s conference was hosted by the Women’s Impact Fund Charlotte, NC.  More than 350 women from 33 groups attended. The 2017 conference was hosted in March in Jacksonville, FL by the Women’s Giving Alliance.  Impact Philadelphia hosted in 2018, the first sold out conference.  Washington Women's Foundation, WaWF, the first collective giving grantmaking organization hosted our 2020 conference while celebrating their 25th anniversary.

Philanos member organizations pay $300 per organization annually to support the Network’s operations. As of September 2022, more than 80 collective giving groups from 28 different states and D.C. are members, plus one organization in Australia and one in London, England.  See our member affiliates 

*The founding leadership team included Colleen Willoughby, Laura Midgley, and Alison Wilson from Washington Women’s Foundation (WA); Virginia Mills from GIVING WoMN in Minneapolis (MN); Vicky Coelho and Susan Smith from Idaho Women’s Charitable Foundation (ID), Tracy Johnson from San Diego Women’s Foundation (CA); Katy Peek from Women’s Fund El Dorado (CA); Rebecca Powers from Impact Austin (TX); Vicki Sheehan from Spirit of St. Louis Women’s Fund (MO); and Karen Wilson from Impact Giving (CA).


Women’s Giving Circles: Reflections from the Founders. Sondra Shaw-Hardy for the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, August 2009.

The Guide to Intelligent Giving: Make a Difference in the World—and in Your Own Life. Joanna L. Krotz, Hearst Books. 

The Power of Collective Giving: Women Mixing it Up. 10/10/13. Article  

Start-up of a Giving Circle: A Case Study. By Deborah Z. Strotz and Sarah M. Bigelow. Kennesaw State University, December 2008.

The Power of the Purse: How Women are Changing Philanthropy. Sondra Shaw-Hardy.

State of Philanthropy: Women on the Cusp of Transformative Power. Jacki Zehner.

New Ventures in Philanthropy. Giving Together: A National Scan of Giving Circles and Shared Giving. 2005 Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers. Article 

Giving Together has Exponential Effects on Communities.Virginia Mills and Debra Mesch, Ph.D. The Huffington Post. 2/2/2017

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