'Giving circle' benefits CU-Boulder School of Education

By Staff

Lorrie Shepard

A growing philanthropic trend is the "giving circle," in which a group of people pool funds to donate to a cause of their choosing. A 2007 study reports the number of active giving circles had doubled from the previous two years.

The School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder is on the leading edge of this philanthropic movement with Women Investing in the School of Education (WISE), a giving circle of friends and alumnae of the school who, in their first year in 2008, jointly gave $54,000 for outreach, research and instruction. They recently met to determine their inaugural allocation of funds.

Education Dean Lorrie Shepard and CU Foundation fundraiser Margot Neufeld began promoting the giving-circle idea among its heavily female alumni base, and it quickly gained traction.

"For many women, giving is more appealing as a group activity," Neufeld said. "The giving circle builds cohesion, and really solidifies the members' understanding about what's happening at the school."

The School of Education's WISE circle is an innovative fundraising model that other CU departments may want to take advantage of as they seek to engage donors in a challenging funding environment. Another program on the Anschutz Medical Campus has explored a giving circle.

WISE members make a three-year commitment of $1,000 each. By combining their gifts, they make a more substantial impact toward a particular area of strategic interest. They meet in the fall for presentations on innovative educational research, programs oriented toward K-12 schools, or statewide outreach efforts.

"They hear about the school's research projects directly from the faculty, which introduces the donors in a very personal way to multiple elements of research and program support," Neufeld said.

With 18 members to date, the group is eager to expand and the need is apparent: In just the first year, School of Education faculty submitted 15 proposals seeking $69,000 in support. This first year, there is $18,000 to give; awards are capped at $5,000.

For more information about the WISE giving circle, contact Margot Neufeld at 303-492-2990 or