Categorized | Social Entrepreneur

Donate Better. Donate Together!

Donate Better. Donate Together!

Sharon Lipinski, Founder

I’m Sharon Lipinski, and I founded Change Gangs: Virtual Giving Circles to help people make better donations. Throughout my life, I’ve donated to help animals, the environment, the homeless, the poor, the Food Bank, the Red Cross and more. You name it, and I’ve probably sent them money. Like many others in today’s economy, the few dollars I had left at the end of the month for philanthropy weren’t making a significant difference for the causes I cared most about until I discovered the power of giving circles.

Wait, a what? What’s a giving circle?

There are over 800 giving circles across the United States donating more than 100 million dollars a year. A giving circle is a group of people who pool their donations so that together, they can make bigger and better donations.

People like us collectively donate billions every year, but were not making as big an impact as we could. We have these things called jobs, families, and budgets, so we don’t have time and energy to research a charity before we give.

What donate through a giving circle?

When we give to charity, we rely on trust. We trust they will do the right thing with our donations. And some are bustling examples of efficiency and effectiveness. But some are struggling with leadership and implementation. Some are working on programs that don’t fix the problem or, worse, hurt the people they’re trying to help (could orphanages cause orphans???). Some are paying exorbitant salaries to their executives and their fundraisers.

Some may even be wasting or embezzling your donationlike an international pet charity who spent 26 million marketing a program that saved a meager 477 pets. Or like the Central Asia Institute which is accused of embezzling and misusing 60 million dollars in donations!

If you think it’s easy to choose a good charity, you might be surprised to hear that Charity Watch evaluated 30 veteran’s charities and gave 2/3rds of them D’s and F’s for how much money actually made it to veterans! 2/3rds! That means it’s easier to win a car on the game show by picking the right door, than it is to choose a good veteran’s charity.

So, research before donating is absolutely critical. But what do we look for and when do we have the time to do that?

Donate Better. Donate Together!That’s where your giving circle comes in. Your giving circle is your donation team. Your giving circle has a Donation Committee. If you have the time and desire, you can serve on the committee. If you don’t, you don’t. But you know that the charity is researched before the donation is made. You know that they are educating themselves on the problem so that you’ll fund programs that will actually make a positive impact. You know what your donation is used for, and you have a say in what it’s used for.

So we make better donations by leveraging the time and knowledge of the entire group! Plus, since we’re pooling our donations, we make bigger donations, too.

Why I started virtual giving circles?

I love donating but hate feeling like my donation doesn’t matter. So when I discovered the idea of giving circles, I knew I had to do this. Most giving circles are community based. They are made up of people in a community to support that community. But since my husband was in the army, we move a lot, and that would mean every few years, I’d be starting over. So my giving circles had to be portable.

We are entirely virtual giving circles. Anyone from anywhere is welcome to be a member. We meet via conference call, we vote virtually, and we store all our records electronically. The only membership requirement is the $25/month donation.

In one year, just a few us, donated over $3,000! I could never give that much money on my own. All I had to do was my part. I only had to give $25/month.

Following my passion of charitable giving

I believe that a donation is an act of love. It’s our desire to make an impact on the world, to give more than we’ve taken, to leave this world a better place. Donating money is good for our soul!

I love donating to charity! I picked three causes I am especially passionate about and started virtual giving circles around those three topics: pets, poverty, and veterans. Anyone can follow the same steps I did to create a giving circle around whatever cause they care about most.

What have you learned about starting a socially minded business?

Here are four thoughts about what has worked for me as I’ve grown over the past year.

Commitment. If you want to take the island, you have to burn the boats! My commitment and my willingness to do whatever it takes to help people make better donations keeps growing and that has helped me to keep keeping on. Starting any business is hard, and starting a business that calls on people’s better natures is even harder. Finding the right words, the right message, the right vehicle to deliver that message to your customers takes trial, error, and commitment. Keep going. Keep trying until you connect.

Support. When I first started, I had visions of immediate and overwhelming success. When that didn’t happen, I got discouraged. And there are days when I feel like I’m not making any progress and that maybe I should give up. Those feelings are normal, and the best defense is a good support network. Who believes in what you’re doing and can give you a few words of encouragement when you need it? Who have you helped and whose story you can pin up on your wall as a reminder of why you’re doing this? Who can help keep you accountable so that you’re meeting your goals, launching your products, and moving forward?

Cull. If you’re like me and want to read every piece of advice and tip and be involved in every social media site to promote your venture, then like me, you’ll be overwhelmed and not have enough time to do productive work. I’m learning to ruthlessly cull and only follow what gives me the most return for my investment of time and energy.

Have an How Can I ? Attitude. Because I started this project on a shoe string budget– $2,500 to start and $100 per month, I had to do a lot of stuff myself. I used to think I couldn’t build a website. I couldn’t edit html. I couldn’t edit a video. I changed my self talk from, I cannot to I haven’t done this before (or I haven’t done this well), how do I do it (better)? And that put me in problem solving mode. It wasn’t always easy and on some projects it took quite a bit of time, but I’ve been able to do accomplish all sorts of projectslike applying for 501c3 statusthat I’d never done before and now I’m very proud of.

Would you do it again?

In a heart beat! I love giving to charity. Even better, I love making donations that matter! Even better, I love helping other people make charitable donations that are meaningful and significant to them.

Starting your own business, socially minded or otherwise, is an exercise in never ending self-improvement. And I love that. I love learning. I love pushing myself past my comfort zone. I love forging into new and unknown territory. That’s not to say that I’m not scared at times.

But very few people actually follow their dreams in this world. Very few people get to wake up every day and do something they know makes a difference. After being successful in a career that made me want to kill myself (I used to be a mortgage broker!), I’ve come to believe very deeply that work that matters is that only thing that matters.


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