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How the Elevate Prize Foundation is revolutionizing philanthropy

“Giving circles” help regular folks pool their money to support a common cause

How the Elevate Prize Foundation is revolutionizing philanthropy

In the summer of 2021, more than 30 individuals from around the world joined a Zoom session to be part of Elevate Giving—an initiative rooted in people-powered philanthropy that’s part of the Elevate Prize Foundation—to raise money for early-childhood education initiatives. After the introductions and some engaging conversation, the money started rolling in: One woman in the U.S. donated $500. A teacher in Uganda pitched in $2. Someone in Guatemala gave $25. A donor from the Philippines was so impressed with the presentation that she emailed organizers afterwards offering to match a $25,000 donation during the next round of Elevate’s “giving circles.”

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Giving circles are rooted in cultures around the globe and over many centuries, though they have exploded in popularity in recent years. Philanthropy is most often seen as the work of large foundations; giving circles push this work into the hands of regular folks, allowing them to make democratic and inclusive change in their own communities. Programs like Elevate Giving allow individuals to join a pop-up experience with like-minded people, pool their money, and collectively donate to a specific cause.

Designed in partnership with Philanthropy Together, an organization committed to scaling and strengthening the global giving-circle movement, Elevate Giving aims to offer a more inclusive avenue for everyday people to participate in philanthropy, align on values, and have a collective impact. The Elevate Prize Foundation contributes $75,000 to each round of Elevate Giving to get the giving circles started. Past beneficiaries include the Black Teacher Collaborative, a social entrepreneurship venture that helps strengthen Black teacher impact and efficacy, and MAIA Impact, an organization that maximizes the potential of young women in Central America to lead transformational change.

“Charitable giving has evolved into something much more participatory,” says Carolina Garcia Jayaram, CEO of the Elevate Prize Foundation. “Donors now want to be closer to the action. They want to understand more about the organization’s values and how its leadership is helping shape and deliver on the mission. In essence, donors want to meaningfully connect with a certain cause or issue, and by learning about and supporting leaders and organizations doing the best work, they can make a bigger difference themselves.”

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THE GIVING GENERATIONS

That shift has been driven by Millennials and Generation Z, two demographics that nearly make up the majority of today’s workforce, or soon will. Long gone are the days of Boomers and Generation X who “gave at the office.” According to a recent survey by payment company Zelle, 75% of Millennials sent some form of financial aid to family or friends or donated to a nonprofit since the pandemic began. Gen Z has the second highest giving rate at 66%.

Gen Z and millennials have also been raised with purpose and meaning as fundamental attributes, and in this era of combating social and racial injustice, workers are gravitating to companies that align with their values as well as ensuring that their own well-being is a priority. “Many corporations are grappling with the fact that for the first time in history, the employee is the most important stakeholder in the company,” Garcia Jayaram says. “It’s a revolutionary change that impacts everything from hiring and retention to how work cultures will evolve to include opportunities for employees to express and engage with social issues that matter to them. The Elevate Prize Foundation provides solutions for these challenges.”

For Sara Lomelin, CEO of Philanthropy Together, giving circles present the perfect internal opportunity for companies to engage with their employees. “The amazing part [about giving circles] is that you inspire more employee engagement with one another,” she says. “There is this organic mentorship going on because you have people from different levels or departments within the company that would have never been around the same table discussing issues if it wasn’t for the giving circle. Everybody has the same voice. One person, one vote.”

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Garcia Jayaram’s goal is for Elevate Giving to collaborate with corporate partners and help bring giving circles into more companies by offering the tools of implementation while guiding them on how to harness the energy and the passion of their workforces. As she puts it, it’s a new era for big business, and trying to make a difference in a quickly evolving world comes with inherent risk. Elevate can provide an understanding of that risk and brings their expertise and resources to ensure selected organizations are well-vetted, and circles are transformative experiences for all involved.

For Garcia Jayaram, the opportunity is too enormous to pass up. “There are so many rich resources within the corporate sector that could be brought to bear for social entrepreneurs and the social impact sector if you started to open those doors,” she says. “It’s not just Elevate Giving—the amount of experience, thought leadership, and brain trust that can be shared is monumental.”


The next round of Elevate Giving, focused on Human Rights and Justice, will open for registration on February 21. For more on The Elevate Prize Foundation, visit ElevatePrize.org.

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