SheGives Launches New Giving Circle Model of Philanthropy

Kirstan Barnett: I was thrilled and shocked at how many we attracted quickly
February 25, 2014 — SheGives, a new giving circle model that supports designated nonprofits in Greater Boston while empowering its members to target their philanthropy, has identified eight nonprofits that are on track to receive at least $235,000 this spring.

Launched last September just a few months after Kirstan Barnett, its president, established the entity, SheGives today has 100 members.

From her work who as general counsel for a Boston hedge fund Barnett understood that conducting due diligence takes time and the said that that process would benefit from the combined efforts of a larger group.

Like other local giving circles, such as Womenade Boston, The Philanthropy Connection, and the Boston Women’s Fund, SheGives creates a pool of funds from its members and then identifies a portfolio of nonprofits to receive those funds. SheGives differs in that each member can designate how much of her funds should go to a particular organization.

While members of SheGives agree to donate a minimum amount—$1,000 a year for two years for those under 40, and $2,500 a year for two years for those 40 or older—many opt to give more.

“We were looking for a platform where individual women who were committed to being donors could essentially review a list of nonprofits and decide on their own which they want to support," explained Barnett.

Barnett said this approach works for members, because many want to support nonprofits but don’t have enough funds to create a foundation that can handle the due diligence on prospective grantees and who want to know their giving can make a bigger impact when combined with the philanthropy of others.

“I was thrilled and shocked at how many we attracted quickly," she said, noting, “We’re at about the number we can handle as a brand new organization."

Barnett said that the current portfolio of eight nonprofits was whittled down from a list of more than 1,000. They were selected by the five-member SheGives board following detailed analyses of financial statements, one-on-one meetings with executive directors that would involve up to 40 members, and reference checking of candidate organizations.

“Women were looking for a diligenced portfolio of nonprofits and it’s something you can’t on your own," she said.

SheGives plans to distribute funds to its portfolio organizations once a year in the spring, with the total amount to be awarded dependent on how much members decide to donate. Members can give on their own, outside of SheGives, but Barnett is looking for them to give via her organization to enhance the full impact of the philanthropic initiative.

Nonprofits will remain in the portfolio for two years, after which they will be replaced by a new group. In the portfolio today are BUILD, Boston; College Bound Dorchester, Boston; Engineering is Elementary, Boston; Lovin’ Spoonfuls, Boston; My Life My Choice, Boston; Raw Art Works, Lynn; Science Club for Girls, Cambridge; Teach Plus, Boston.

Barnett said a key goal was to create a diverse portfolio that would resonate with her membership, which today includes an assistant district attorney, a television reporter, a landscape architect, a chef, and an opera singer, as well as business professionals and stay-at-home mothers.

Ayele Shakur, regional executive director of Build, which uses its $1.2 million annual budget to engage 175 low-income students each year through entrepreneurship to complete high school and attend college, described SheGives as “a very savvy experienced group of women who are looking for a more streamline and more thoughtful way to do philanthropy."

Shakur said the due diligence process, conducted over three months, was stringent, but welcomed since “sometimes with a new funder you don’t know how decisions are being made."

Perhaps as valuable as the financial support Build will receive is the involvement of SheGives members, some of whom are looking to get involved as coaches, volunteers, or on its advisory board.