With more than 2,500 giving circles worldwide, it’s clear that people from all backgrounds are looking for ways to come together to make real change in society. 

Tyeshia Wilson is part of this movement.

“The power lies in the people,” said Wilson, director of engagement at Philanthropy Together. “People want and need community.”

Wilson was recently featured in the 2022 Black Women Give List, an initiative of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, Black Philanthropy Month and The Women Invested to Save the Earth (WISE) Fund. Building on research that demonstrates the unique perspectives women across race and ethnicity bring to philanthropy and recognizing women as leaders for racial justice issues, the list highlights the contributions Black women donors have made around the world.

Giving Compass talked with Wilson about her work and the ability of giving circles to shift collective power into communities. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Briefly, can you describe some of your philanthropic work that you are most excited about?

As the Director of Engagement at Philanthropy Together, I have the opportunity to lead, connect and build community with everyday philanthropists from all over the world and share our mission to democratize and diversify philanthropy. I’m very excited about that because I’m passionate about people, community and change and my work in philanthropy allows me to intersect all three. It’s all about love for humanity and relationships. 

In my role, I train philanthropists from all walks of life, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, students, colleagues on how to start giving circles through our Launchpad program. I help people utilize and actualize their power as philanthropists to funnel resources into communities and create positive change. There is nothing more powerful or exciting than that. 

Another thing I'm excited about is starting to meet in person again (since going remote in 2020) and getting into communities through our CircleUps. These are designed as a social networking opportunity to get regionally connected with giving circles and to bring in new people to the collective giving movement to learn, connect, and meet one another. I’m having so much fun meeting folks in person that I have connected with over Zoom the past two years!  

Lastly, I am excited about the way we are storytelling and showcasing the work and impact of giving circles. We do this through our Spotlight series, speaking engagements,  We Give Summit, the Global Giving Circle Directory, and other opportunities. We're seeing folks invite us into their spaces to share more about our collective impact work and learn about giving circles. It’s exciting to see so many people leaning in and amplifying this work.

How have your personal experiences as a Black woman informed your approach to philanthropy?

I am a Black woman philanthropist who has worked across all sectors. I’m a mother of five raising future philanthropists. I’m a first-generation master’s graduate from a vulnerable community. I overcame poverty. I was a teen mom. I lost my dad to gun violence. I have been a victim of blatant and micro racism. According to the statistics, I was not supposed to be here. I'm not supposed to be sitting on these boards. I'm not supposed to be leading a whole movement, but I am.  All of these experiences as a Black woman and as a woman who has overcome many of the issues that we seek to address in philanthropy – that matters. I have firsthand experience which means I have on-the-ground knowledge about these issues, the work, but more importantly, the solutions. 

Now that I have a seat at the table, I’m approaching philanthropy through the lens of my lived experiences that I know are relevant and valuable to what we're trying to solve in philanthropy. My knowledge, my perspective, and what I carry with me helps inform my decisions as a funder, as a disruptor of traditional philanthropy, and as a champion for the more equitable and just world that we are collectively working to build. An inclusive, equitable and community-driven approach to philanthropy will rely on people that have very robust lived experiences like myself.

How are giving circles helping to advance equity in philanthropy and society?

Giving circles at the core are people-powered philanthropy. The [model] provides the opportunity for everyone to be involved in making a difference. For all people to serve, to give, to have a voice, to safely learn from one another. For all people to make decisions about funding, how that funding flows back to the community and who receives it. Giving Circles are powerful, activation tools to advance equity in philanthropy because in them everyone has power and has the opportunity to use it, equally and equitably that are not contingent on your race, income or anything else.There is so much diversity and inclusiveness housed in giving circles which is a counter-narrative to traditional philanthropy. They are opening up the space – by saying there is no prerequisite for you to be a philanthropist and join this movement to create a more equitable and just society. Through them, we now have more Indigenous, Asian- Pacific Islander, Black and brown voices making decisions on funding and not just being recipients of it. 

What are you most hopeful about?

I’m very hopeful about the conversations and the power-shifting change we're having in philanthropy right now. The conversations about the inequities in philanthropy, while uncomfortable sometimes, are actually bringing us together and aligning our minds to practice the principles of trust-based philanthropy which are necessary for us to bridge the gaps in funding. We’re getting stronger and healthier collectively through the learning and unlearning that's taking place through deliberative dialogue. I’m hopeful about the change and also about the new faces and energy that’s happening within the sector. We need to keep digging deeper to unroot some of the harmful traditional practices of philanthropy that have excluded many folks, especially BIPOC communities  from engaging on the supply side of the sector.  

I am also excited about the power shifting back to the people. We live in a democracy, and citizen power is everything. We need people to understand how powerful they are and how to utilize that power. I’m hopeful that giving circles, which are incubators for civic engagement, will help people to see that.

What advice would you give other philanthropists?

There is a sense of urgency in the world right now. I would like philanthropists to lean into that urgency, but lean into it exactly where you are. There is no prerequisite for change. No matter where you are, the change starts with you in the space you occupy right now.  You won't feel defeated if you can center the change within yourself and place it. So start small. Can you go volunteer? Do you have the time for that? Can you connect? Are you on social media? Can you reshare the post? Place yourself in this moment. WE are living in a revolutionary time. Change is happening and happening fast.  We are at a pivotal time that requires everybody to act and be an upstander, not a bystander waiting for someone else to start doing the work. Your influence with a simple act can be very powerful. Exercise every morsel of your personal power to create the positive, beautiful, inclusive, amazing, and thriving communities that we want to see.