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2,000 Kilometres from home, Romanian expats build giving community in Belgium

A Google search of “giving circles” yields pages upon pages of results, which will tell you how effective they are in connecting people and causes, in channelling resources to the most marginalized, and in democratizing the act of giving. The numbers speak to the power of the idea: since 2002 The Funding Network (TFN) has been spreading the giving circle model across the U.K., and in that time has channelled more than £7.4 million to 1,500 projects. TFN’s international efforts, launched in 2012, have been similarly successful, with more than 100 events in 16 countries raising over £3 million. 

This is all true - but it is probably the case that unless you have actually attended a giving circle, you likely still won’t really have a sense of what they’re all about. This is because it’s nearly impossible to describe the buzz in the room, the creeping sense you get that generosity is contagious, or the thrill that washes over you as you raise your hand in the air and pledge your support for the first time.  

It was on a snowy night in November 2017 - on the eve of Romania’s national day - that 80 enthused Romanians came together in a (thankfully) warm room in Brussels to launch the first Cercul Donatorilor Bruxelles. Interestingly, Romania hosts more giving circles than any other European country besides the U.K., so perhaps it was only a matter of time before the Romanian diaspora assisted in spreading the idea beyond their own borders? While we all knew that we had gathered to raise money for three projects (the target had been set to collect €2,000 for each), the opening remarks from Ioana Traistă, a member of the event’s organizing committee (made up of nine Romanians living and working in Belgium), set the tone: “It’s about building the types of compassionate communities where we would want to live.” And with that, the pitching and bidding began! 

Cercul Donatorilor Bruxelles organizing committee & "pitchers"

Rather than a competitive atmosphere ensuing, it was rather a mood of celebration and comradery. Questions from the audience to the three project representatives were not intended to trip them up - they were instead asked to gain a better understanding of the work, and will likely serve to help the brave “pitchers” refine and improve their project descriptions in the future. The comparison has been drawn between Giving Circles and the Dragon’s Den, but there was nothing dragon-like happening at the Cercul Donatorilor Bruxelles. Instead, one could nearly feel the encouragement radiating from the audience who, it seemed, just wanted the pitchers to do well.

Aisha Mansour, Executive Director of Palestine’s Dalia Association, happened to be in Brussels that evening and also attended. What were her thoughts on why this felt so different? “Giving Circles are the philanthropy of the future! It’s not about bigwigs distributing huge cheques, but about average citizens coming together around solutions. The event in Brussels was mainly attended by young professionals, interested in supporting grassroots initiatives that wouldn’t usually be on their radars. This is what I see as the future of giving, which is much more in line with the principles of community philanthropy - i.e. everyone has something to give, and should be encouraged to do so - than what has come before.” One concrete result emerging from the Cercul Donatorilor Bruxelles: the Dalia Association, supported by TFN, will be hosting the first Giving Circle in Palestine in 2018.

A second result is the impressive total of €8,100 being raised for the three projects on offer - notably €2,100 more than the set target. But, according to Ioana, this isn’t the most significant outcome: “It’s that kind of night when I feel like anything I say is too little! I’ve seen a lot of light on a lot of people’s faces: much excitement, and much desire to contribute. It’s important to feel you have a warm and safe space where you can talk and connect with people, and - better yet - to do something together. This is about more than money, it’s about trust, and building a community around that.”

Perhaps this is the other thing about giving circles that is so difficult to describe: the feeling you get that you are more than just a roomful of individuals who give, but rather that you’re part of a community of people who want to do good, collectively. The Cercul Donatorilor Bruxelles also made it clear that a community can be about so much more than merely occupying the same physical space or geography - a community is, rather, what and who you want it to be. And as a result of this event, there is now a community of generous Brussels-based Romanians, who are tied together by their love for their home country and their desire to make it better - even if they are living 2,000 kilometres away.  

TFN offers training and support to CSOs looking to establish their own giving circles and TFN’s founder, Frederick Mulder, through his own family foundation, offers grants of up to €1,000 to organizations wishing to pilot the TFN giving circle model. For more information, please contact TFN's Eugenie Harvey

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