“Of the Community.” How a New African-American Giving Circle is Gaining Steam

Preparing young women for college has one focus of Sisters’ Circle GKC. PHOTO:  michaeljung /shutterstock

Preparing young women for college has one focus of Sisters’ Circle GKC. PHOTO: michaeljung/shutterstock

As part of our ongoing coverage of giving circles across the country, we’re always on the lookout for emerging groups that advance the philanthropic power of women, people of color, and other disenfranchised groups. Often, these giving circles are established out of a sense that mainstream philanthropy isn’t paying enough attention to historically marginalized communities. Giving circles offer a way to channel this frustration into action. But their growing popularity also speaks to rising interest in philanthropy overall, with more people getting involved in giving with whatever resources they have.

The latest giving circle to cross our radar is Sisters’ Circle GKC, which is working to increase charitable giving within African-American communities, for the benefit of these communities, in the Greater Kansas City area.

The group was established in 2016, and awards grants in the $5,000 to $20,000 range to local nonprofits in Clay, Jackson and Platte Counties of Missouri, and in Johnson and Wyandotte Counties in Kansas. To learn a bit more about how this giving circle operates and what distinguishes it from others—many of which operate as extensions of local community foundations—we got in touch with Sisters’ Circle GKC co-founders Pat Macdonald and Dr. Marj Williams.

Macdonald and Williams told Inside Philanthropy that one of the two biggest issues African-American communities confront in the Greater Kansas City area is education. This is because “there are not enough quality early childhood programs or high-performing public schools or scholarship dollars for students aspiring to attend college,” they say.

The other big local issue that Sisters’ Circle GKC targets is housing, because “there is a tremendous need for increasing affordable housing and enforcement of stricter governance of landlords to prevent abuses that result in evictions.”

Sisters’ Circle GKC interest areas aren’t determined in advance, but are based upon the collective wisdom of giving circle members who read all the applications and submit recommendations. In the group’s first year, it supported an alternative school for students with adverse childhood experiences with a grant to help students manage stress and chronic trauma through music clinics. In its second year, Sisters’ Circle GKC funding backed a leadership support program to mentor young women and prepare them for college, careers, independence and financial security. Last year, the group provided a game-changing gift to the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City.

While new giving circles are popping up all around the country, there’s actually a lot that goes into launching one and operating one successfully. When asked to name one of the toughest challenges of building up Sisters’ Circle GKC, Macdonald and Williams said that time is always a challenge.

“We are busy people by day and by night,” Williams said. “We operate as volunteers, encouraging and uplifting our membership and promoting community service and collaboration. We are consistently researching and collaborating with others to seek resources to make every Sister Circle gathering special and inspiring.”

To guide prospective grantees, Macdonald and Williams provided the following piece of advice about approaching the giving circle for support.

“Applicants gain support one vote at a time,” they said. “So, our goal is to be more than in the community, but to be of the community, so you can encounter individuals and have the opportunity to share what you do with one potential donor at a time.”

Learn more here about the giving circle’s restrictions, application procedures, and how to become a member. We’re expecting the next Sisters’ Circle GKC grant award announcement in August.