Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


Giving Circles and de Tocqueville

There was an interesting story on NPR the other day about “giving circles.” It’s about groups of people getting together, pooling their money, investigating charities together, and then giving money.

The story mentions how the increasing bureaucratization* of fund-raising leads to groups whose involvement is “I write them a cheque each year.”

It also mentions that the folks doing the investigation end up volunteering their time and getting involved:

“Even if we don’t feel like we’re giving away a lot of money, I think it’s just building in commitment that’ll expand to other things that we do,” she says. “So beyond our involvement in this giving circle, I think we’re all probably going to be more engaged with our communities overall.” (“Donors Turn To Giving Circles As Economy Drops“)

de Tocqueville would be shocked, shocked to discover that actually speaking to other people would increase civil involvement. But as we bureaucratize, background check and formalize every bit of volunteering, more and more people choose to stay away.

*The spell checker knows that word. How sad!)

4 comments on "Giving Circles and de Tocqueville"

  • amy says:

    “as we bureaucratize, background check and formalize every bit of volunteering, more and more people choose to stay away.”
    It’s so so true. Dumb but true. A few years ago I attempted to contact and volunteer with an organization that helped me out for over 10 years when I was a kid. I wanted to give something back.
    They asked me to fill out and send in a volunteer application before I came in, and provide references to show I was capable of working with kids. I don’t work with children now, so I didn’t feel like I had applicable references. Instead of just writing down my professional or personal references, I hesitated and never sent in the application, even though I am sure it was just a formality. The paper trail process was just a barrier that held me at a distance.
    But I’m perfectly happy donating and sending checks to organizations, hoping every little bit helps–and I have volunteered with several other youth organizations since.

  • allan says:

    Bob Putnam, most famous for turning de Tocqueville into numbers, has written about the distinction between getting involved and sending money. In politics, it has been termed the distinction between “air war” and “ground war.” Money is pretty critical for winning political battles, but a large, truly committed group is unstoppable.

  • icemiette says:

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