Giving Circles Bring Together Like-Minded Philanthropists to Help Those in Need

Categories: Stories of Impact,

The last 10 years have seen the creation of a number of giving circles—organizations that require an annual minimum donation and work together on a membership basis.

The residents of Sarasota and Manatee counties have always been prolific in their giving. In 2016, Sarasota had more foundation resources per capita than any other community in Florida, according to local leaders. And while it’s often big gifts, wealthy benefactors and black-tie galas that capture headlines, the last 10 years have seen the creation of a number of less-heralded local giving circles—organizations that require an annual minimum donation and work together on a membership basis. These groups are often united by the causes they care about, the gender or ethnicity of their members, their core values or, often, all of the above. We found five local giving circles that are working, one donation at a time, to make our community a better place.

Masala Giving Circle

The first time Caryl Sheffield heard about the Masala Giving Circle was six years ago, when a friend mentioned the group to her during a line dancing class. She’s now the organization’s president.

That story encapsulates the intimate and grassroots nature of the nonprofit, a group of Black women who direct giving each year to programs and organizations that benefit the Black community in Sarasota and Manatee counties.

“If you listen to the news or read the paper, it’s not a surprise that there are major disparities in the Black community here in Sarasota and Manatee counties,” says Sheffield. “That really is what we’re going for—to try to alleviate some of these discrepancies that we see.”

The nonprofit’s word-of-mouth membership strategy has clearly worked. The Sarasota group started in 2013 with about 12 members, and now boasts 97 active women.

Each member must give a minimum of $300 a year, and, like many other giving circles, they manage their finances through a third party, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. The group’s grants committee plays the largest role in deciding which groups and projects receive funding and how much they get. The giving circle’s maximum individual grant is $10,000.

“They solicit the grants, they solicit the applications, they vet the applications very carefully and they make recommendations to the executive committee about which organizations should receive grants,” says Sheffield.

Although the group has a demographic focus, it is able to fund any program within that general purview. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Sarasota’s food insecurity became clear; in 2020, All Faiths Food Bank saw a 53 percent increase in new clients at food distributions. So, that same year, the Masala Giving Circle dedicated all of its funds to local food banks.

But the circle’s funding doesn’t just help the community today. Members want to leave behind a lasting legacy that will help people tomorrow. That includes programs in honor of past members, like Sheila Baynes, the founder and inaugural president, who passed away in June 2020. As a memorial, her family asked for donations made on her behalf to be given to the Masala Giving Circle. The outpouring of support was moving—they raised more than $8,500. And, in honor of Baynes, the Giving Circle earmarked the funds for a reading center in Baynes’ name at the soon-to-be-opened Sarasota African American Art Center and History Museum.

The Giving Circle is full of women like Baynes and Sheffield—accomplished, strong, hard-working women who are doctors, lawyers, educators, business leaders, entrepreneurs and bankers, says Sheffield.

“What’s unique about us is our size and that these are all African American women with such strong backgrounds,” she says. “Our members are very accomplished women. I think it’s important to recognize that.”

If you’re interested in joining the Masala Giving Circle, click here.

Read about other area giving circles in the original article as published in Sarasota Magazine here.