Philanthropy has its challenges, which are accentuated by a global pandemic. With the loss of face-to-face meetings and community gatherings, nonprofits have faced difficulties fundraising. For those who look to contribute their time, money, or talents, the challenge is understanding where and how to be most useful.

Dru Roessle, of Danville, has proposed engaging in local community-based philanthropy networks or Giving Circles. These networks are designed to identify specific issues to which the participants want to contribute money, or apply time and talent, particularly to support grassroots efforts that may not see the same level of funding as larger non-profits.

Dru moved to Vermont in 2007 to attend the University of Vermont and stayed in the Burlington area taking a job in the Shumlin administration after graduating. She is currently Director of Performance Improvement in the Vermont Agency of Human Services, where she facilitates collaborative projects to improve services. She moved to Danville in September of 2020.

In November, Dru attended Launchpad Vermont, a virtual workshop on grassroots philanthropy hosted by The Giving Project. Launchpad, originally developed by Philanthropy Together, is an incubator for Giving Circles. The five sessions allow participants to determine the goals for the Giving Circle by listening to other members and deciding the best course of action toward a common vision the group wants to support.

Leslie Halperin and Laura Latka founded The Giving Project in April 2020 to democratize philanthropy and create access for all to be able to give, regardless of the level of resources. They each work in philanthropy careers and had met before the pandemic and discussed how philanthropy was changing. Laura noted the need for more grassroots philanthropy, particularly in Vermont.

“Vermont is a graying state, and cannot rely on a small group of individuals,” she said. As historically major donors dwindle in number, there is a greater need for grassroots community philanthropy across the country and in Vermont.

Halperin and Latka also see giving circles as a way to broaden and diversify philanthropy.

“Giving Circles provide an entry point to philanthropy for everyday givers,” said Halperin. “When people give together, even when folks give modest sums, the impact of the collective gift and the collective voice is powerful.”

Although the duo was concerned about launching the new initiative just as the world went into lockdown, they’ve found people are eager to connect and be in a community now more than ever. To date, the program has trained 19 people, with 12 circles launched since the inception of the Launchpad Vermont training, and 17 active circles throughout Vermont.

Leslie noted there will be a NextGen pilot course coming in May for youth 15-18. This course is free, just as the original Launchpad Vermont course and helps youth understand the foundations of developing a Giving Circle for their own needs and community.

“Giving Circles also benefit nonprofit organizations, not just the participants who find joy in giving,” Laura said. Giving Circles can reduce the administrative burden for existing non-profits, or help raise funds for a local family struggling with an illness or other significant problems, such as a house fire or storm damage.

Local Giving Circles are independent, and not formally incorporated, although The Giving Project itself does its fiscal reporting through Mercy Connections in Burlington, which supports several Education and Transition programs, Justice and Mentoring, as well as a Women’s Small Business Support programs. In most cases, Giving Circles give funds directly to the beneficiary.

“There are so many ways to create a giving circle and so many different reasons a person or group could have to start one,” said Dru. “For me, it’s really important to do this work with other people. I like the idea that the whole group can decide together what interests and priorities we want to explore. And that’s why the goal for the Northeast Kingdom Giving Circle is broad: to build capacity for collective thriving in the Northeast Kingdom by pooling funds to support local initiatives, projects, organizations, and partnerships working at the grassroots for social, environmental, and economic justice.”

The Northeast Kingdom Giving Circle will be a small group of people from different towns across the NEK, around 10-15 people. They will make two donations a year to two different issue areas.

“In the fall and spring, we’ll find our focus and learn about efforts underway we might want to support, and in the winter and summer we’ll make our choice by consensus, raise our funds, and make our donation,” said Dru. 

The group will meet in Dru’s barn, hopefully moving to living rooms and lawns in the future.

“It is important to me that anyone can participate, regardless of how much money they feel able to donate,” she said. “Members will be invited to give whatever they can, and we’ll invite additional donations from friends, families, neighbors, and organizations and foundations when we’ve decided where we want to give. That way, in addition to increasing the amount we can give, we’ll be raising awareness about the local efforts we’re supporting.”

If you are interested in supporting this effort and one of the causes Dru suggested, or if you have another cause you would like to suggest for the Northeast Kingdom Giving Circle, you can contact Dru at Drusilla.roessle@gmail.com.

If you have questions about Giving Circles in general, including the new youth program, contact leslie@givingprojectvt.org, or take a look at the LaunchpadVermont website: www.givingprojectvt.org/start.