The Big Give in Reston

Giving Circle of Hope holds year-end event to celebrate collective giving.

The Big Give of 2016, where the members of the Giving Circle of Hope celebrated another year of collective giving and invited the community at large to understand their mission, was such a success that, of course, the event had to become a new tradition. This year’s gathering was held at Refraction in Reston Town Center on Nov. 9, and from the size of the crowd and the donations being made, it’s clear that adopting the The Big Give was a good decision.

Voting members don’t have to pay to attend, explained Suzanne Weiss, governance vice chair of Giving Circle of Hope, “although they still put something in the bowl!” Non-voting members and the general public added their $25 per head to enjoy a real feast of hors d'oeuvres and libations.

“It’s really great,” said Weiss, because “the more they donate, the larger the amount we can award to our three final grantees for this year.”

The founders of the Reston-based nonprofit have long since come to realize the power of collective giving. They began as four civic-minded women who got together around a kitchen table to ponder what they could do to create “fun with a purpose” and actively participate in aiding those in need in their community.

In the almost 15 years since officially becoming a 501 (c) 3 organization, Giving Circle of Hope has awarded 133 grants to 55 local nonprofits with budgets under $2 million. The all-volunteer group, which now numbers over 100 members, has also awarded four Endowment Grants and a special $25,000 Impact Grant to Connections for Hope of Herndon to celebrate Giving Circle of Hope’s 10th anniversary. Over the years, they have awarded more than $1 million to organizations engaged in caring for those in need, right in our own community.

“COLLECTIVE GIVING” means exactly that. Generous donors and various fundraisers contribute to the coffers, but most of the grants come from the $415 minimum annual donation that individuals give to become “Voting Members,” meaning that they are eligible to vote on how and to whom the funds are awarded. With a minimum donation of only $50 per year, an individual can become a Service Member, enjoying the company of like-minded philanthropic neighbors, attending Giving Circle of Hope events, and volunteering for any of the service programs that are part of the organization’s mission.

The grants are certainly critical, and much needed, but direct engagement is also a big part of what Giving Circle of Hope members do. Cyndi Shanahan, Giving Circle of Hope’s governance chair, notes that Circle members have volunteered thousands of hours, and their energy and their talents in direct service of such programs as The Kids’ Club at the Embry Rucker Shelter in Reston, and the annual Empty Bowls dinner that supports Food for Others.

In addition to raising more funds and to thank the membership for their efforts throughout the year, the Big Give also aims to give the general public a more in-depth look at some of the needs of the neighbors around us, and the opportunity to experience collective giving first-hand.

At the event, three nonprofits were selected to pitch their projects. The attendees left the buffet behind for a while to listen first to keynote speaker Catherine Read, a strategist, activist, and advocate for area nonprofits, then to the presentations by representatives of Fairfax CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) for abused and neglected children, BRAWS (Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters) and NAMI Northern Virginia, a local mental health nonprofit.

Immediately following the eye-opening presentations, the entire audience – members and visiting public alike – were invited to cast their ballots. All three worthy organizations receive a portion of the evening’s proceeds, but the group with the most votes receives twice the amount as that which is awarded to the other two recipients.

There were a lot of “Oh, my gosh, I just don’t know! They all deserve it!“ comments to be heard as the audience made their selections, but eventually, with a champagne toast by Suzanne Weiss, Fairfax CASA was declared the winner of the largest grant.

But the representatives from the other two groups didn’t see themselves as having lost. Sara Mastro and Vicky Hodges from BRAWS were still thrilled to have had the chance to spread their message, and receive some much needed funds for the feminine hygiene products and the garments they purchase and provide for women and girls in shelters, schools and prisons.

Jeanne Comeau was equally pleased to share the work of NAMI Northern Virginia, the launch of their “We are Here!” Project, and add a bit to the financial resources of the organization.

IN ADDITION to the funds awarded at the Big Give, Giving Circle of Hope in in the process of voting on grants to 31 other organizations for the 2017 grant-making season. Learn more about the Giving Circle of Hope at

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