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The Rise of Giving Circles – Canadians Pooling Funds for Greater Impact

3 minute read

Published in the Bay Street Bull, September 2019 – by

From startups to restaurants to high-tech corporations, women are taking the business world by storm and leaving their mark. Sarah Bull’s Women Impact Network is getting together to learn about issues and collectively pool resources to make a greater impact.

While working with some of her clients in North America, Sarah Bull noticed the growing female interest in wanting to give back as part of their wealth management plans.

Bull is a Partner and Portfolio Manager at KJ Harrison Investors. Her job is managing the investment portfolios of high net worth individuals, a large part of her clientele being women.

The emerging philanthropy trend for collectively giving back is called Giving Circles.

Giving Circles bring together like-minded individuals, to learn about issues that are impacting the community and then pool resources and capital, in order to make a greater impact with their funds.

According to a study done in the US, Giving Circles have tripled since 2010. Notably, many of these circles have been started and led by women. Thus, showcasing female solidarity and their desire to contribute to community issues.


As women continue to break the glass ceiling and their wealth continues to grow, it is no surprise that Giving Circles are women-dominated and increasing in popularity.

In fact, in 2016, Canadian women controlled 35% of financial wealth. By 2026, women are expected to control close to 48%.

Beyond just controlling increasing amounts of wealth, findings from a report by TD Bank revealed that affluent Canadian women donate a higher proportion of their investable assets to charity than men.

Based on her experiences in the US, Bull was inspired to start her own Giving Circle in Toronto.

Earlier this year, Bull partnered with Victoria Sopik, Co-founder of Kids & Company, and Anne Brayley, Vice President, Philanthropic Giving at the Toronto Foundation (TF) to create the Women Impact Network (WIN).

The goal of this particular Giving Circle is simple: bring together 25 women who will each donate at least $1,000 to provide a minimum $25,000 donation to a local charity.

How it works

The Giving Circle process unfolds over three meetings.

For the first meeting, Bull invited the Toronto Foundation to help facilitate a value-based exercise to explore which values were important to the women and identify some sectors that the group of women could donate their funds to. The Foundation identified areas like health, the environment, and poverty and homelessness.

By the end of the meeting, the group decided that the sector they wanted to make an impact on this year was poverty and homelessness.

Prior to the second meeting Bull leaned on the Toronto Foundation to identify charities within the poverty and homelessness sector that the group could give to. The charities that are chosen can be in any sector and aren’t exclusively ones that affect women.

The Foundation suggested three charities and these charities were then asked to present to the Giving Circle. The charities provided details on who they are, what they do and how the donation would make a difference in the community, followed by a Q&A.

Giving Circles often focus on local initiatives versus national. Different than crowdfunding, another key aspect is the combinational use of group education and coordinated group giving.

“So rather than just writing a cheque, they really engaged with the charities,” said Bull.

Important to members is transparency, wanting to ensure that all of the money would actually be donated to the charity. “We asked for the financial statements from each charity. And I did an analysis of those financial statements,” said Bull. The group is also administered by the Toronto Foundation to further ensure good governance around the logistics of how the giving was being done.

Following the presentations by the charities, each group member was then asked to blindly vote for the charity they deemed most deserving of the donation.

This year the charity selected as the recipient of the donation is New Circles. The charity provides clothing, employment skills training, and settlement support to individuals living on a low-income (with a focus on residents of Thorncliffe Park, Flemingdon Park, Victoria Village, Taylor-Massey, and Oakridge), as well as all Syrian and other government-assisted refugees across the city.

The perfect ending to the admirable endeavour is the third meeting which is when the group will discover how their donation impacted the charity they chose. This meeting for the Women Impact Network is scheduled for fall/winter of this year.

As for the future, Bull says she is happy to see the Women Impact Network evolve and grow as long as they’re still able to manage all of the input that allows the members to continue to engage in a meaningful way with the charities.

Women interested in getting involved with the Women Impact Network can contact Sarah Bull at

This article was originally published on the Bay Street Bull website. To view the article click here.

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