Do Giving Circles Democratize Philanthropy? Donor Identity and Giving to Historically Marginalized Groups


This research focuses on understanding how giving circle (GC) member identities are associated with the identities of funding recipients. It examines whether GC members are more likely than non-members to give to people who are like them (bonding social capital) and/or to people who are not like them (bridging social capital). We draw on data from a survey of GC members and a comparison control group of non-GC members. Findings show GC members and those not in GCs are both more likely to give to a shared identity group—related to race, gender, and gender identity—leading to bonding social capital. However, GC members are more likely than those not in GCs to give to groups that do not share their identity, suggesting GCs also encourage bridging social capital. We assert both bonding and bridging social capital might lead to the democratization of philanthropy by expanding giving to historically marginalized groups.

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This research was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, via the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

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Correspondence to Angela M. Eikenberry.

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The second author is a member of the Voluntas editorial review board.

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Julia L. Carboni and Angela M. Eikenberry contributed equally and author order is alphabetical.

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Carboni, J.L., Eikenberry, A.M. Do Giving Circles Democratize Philanthropy? Donor Identity and Giving to Historically Marginalized Groups. Voluntas (2021).

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  • Giving circles
  • Philanthropy
  • Democratization
  • Identity
  • Social capital