Dissertations, Theses and Capstone Projects

Date of Award

Fall 2008

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Public Administration (MPA)


Political Science


Giving circles are a new form of philanthropy expanding across the United States. Diverse groups of individuals pool their funds and other resources to donate to individuals and organizations in need of assistance. They provide an avenue to increase civic engagement and participation in community. The purpose of this practicum is to conduct a case study evaluating the start-up process of a small group giving circle. Observations and analyses are based on four group meetings and individual telephone interviews.

The development steps established in the literature effectively guided the start-up of this new giving circle. The group processes demonstrated democratic principles, including participatory action and collective decision-making; 100 percent of the interviewees stated that the giving circle made collective decisions. Members were motivated to join this eleemosynary group by their desire to reach out beyond single-minded giving and connect with others and the community. The decision about to whom to give money was driven by the degree of need established by the individual and/or organization, as indicated by 80 percent of the interview respondents. Members established a group identity and mission in the early meetings, capturing collective passion and guiding the giving focus. The name “Bridging the Gap Giving Circle” was generated.

Observations and findings from the case study suggest that giving circles provide an avenue to build both bonding and bridging social capital. All respondents viewed this group as a safe and trusting environment where social bonds could quickly materialize. Eighty percent of the respondents expressed that they bonded with other group members. Increased relationships with the community were identified as outcomes of the giving circle efforts; 100 percent of the respondents described the giving circle experience as an opportunity to build community relationships.

Importantly, this case study has resulted in the emergence of a sustainable community-minded organization that seeks to serve the local area. Ninety percent of the members plan to continue this group; new participants have already requested to join.