Monday, October 25, 2010

How to Start a Gift Circle

What is a gift circle?

A gift circle is an open circle where people come to help each other, and share their needs and services. People share their services and help as a gift, without expectation of anything in return.

What is the purpose of a gift circle?

To allow people to help each other and to create a sense of community. And to further the gift economy.

What is a gift economy?

A gift economy as we define it is where people give something without the expectation of anything in return.

What are examples of gift economies?

Burning Man, Rainbow gatherings, Wikipedia, open source software.

What is the format of a gift circle?

The format we use is a work in progress, and an open source adventure. We are still experimenting.

The form we have been using is with everyone sitting in a circle, and then the order goes:

1. Check-in – where people say their names and a little bit about their recent or current experience(s).This helps everyone get to know each other better and get comfortable.

2. Sharing of needs. People share what their needs are. This could be a ride to the city, finding a housemate, someone to walk the dog, editing services, etc., etc.

3. Service offering. People offer something to the group, just “putting it out there” for whoever might need that service or object. Alternatively an offering can be made to the group as a whole. One way this can be done is to write on a slip of paper the services you have to offer and then put that in the middle of the circle. Then anyone who wants can pick up that slip of paper up. (Although we have not found this format necessary.)

4. Giving thanks. People express gratitude for services and things they have received from previous circles.

5. Scheduling. People get together and share when they can get together to give/receive their services.

Is the circle open or closed?

The circle seems to work better when it is open, because new people allow new services to be offered.

What the time frame for a gift circle?

The circle can be anywhere in length from half an hour to a couple of hours.

What is the motivation for people to give?

Sometimes people give because they genuinely care about others and want to help them. Sometimes it is because they have a gift they would really like to share with others. Sometimes it is because they want to build community. Sometimes it may be because they want to get to know others better.

What is the role of gratitude?

Gratitude changes the mood in the circle. The circle can be guided to access their sense of gratitude.

Is there barter in the gift circle?

For the most part we are focusing on pure gifting without the expectation of anything in return. So it is not barter that occurs in our circle. However participants can of course choose to do a little barter on the side.

What is role of non-attachment?
When we give, we give from a place of wanting to share. There is no expectation of getting anything in return. We may also give from a place of wanting something in return. There is an attachment to an expectation. Letting go of this attachment creates a whole new energetic. A group may not start with this level of non-attachment, but it can evolve to this level.

What if people have a hard time expressing their needs?

It can be a new experience for people to express their needs directly, especially to a group. But it is part of the empowerment process. Many of us may have learnt not to ask or expect for our needs to be met. There can be gentle encouragement from the group for people to express their needs, and others can gently prompt a person to find and express their needs. Sometimes it just takes a little time to realize what your needs are, and that you can ask for them to be met. There can also be discussion time for circle members to discuss how they feel expressing their needs.

Is there a facilitator?

Yes, we have found it useful to have a facilitator for the meeting. Sometimes different people may chime in and suggest ways to lead. As more people become adept at facilitating the meeting, the meeting can become more ‘multi-facilitator facilitated.’

What is role of facilitator?

To think about overall time needs – approximately how long should each person speak in order for the process to finish on time; does the group need to break into smaller circles to enable each person to have time to talk? To guide the group to listen more deeply to each other. To sense the mood the circle and allow things to flow in order to allow the best experience for the group as a whole.

How often do you meet?

We meet once a week.

Should you have the same facilitator every week?

We have found it useful to have different people facilitating. This allows many people to gain the understanding of how to facilitate the circle, and for the circle to benefit from the personality of many different people, and for members to understand the role of the facilitator as an equal. Facilitation can give people a different sense of the circle, that they have to be aware of many things at the same time. By introducing different people to facilitating it builds a sense of awareness in more members. Multiple facilitators gives the circle more resilience. If ‘founding facilitators’ are not there or drop out, the circle will still go on.

What happens if people are not following up to get their services?

We found initially that it was a strange experience for some people to call up someone to see if they could access the service offered. People can give encouragement to each other to follow through on calling up people to get the service. It can take a little time to learn to do things in this new way.

If the circle gets big how do you have time for everyone to say their needs?

We have sometimes been splitting the group into smaller subgroups. In those subgroups people get a chance to share with each other their needs. The subgroups can then share back to the larger groups, relating the needs of the people in the subgroups.
Should the format be the same each week? How does the circle evolve?
Experimentation is welcome in the circle. People can try different formats and ways of expression. Play with different exercises to get people to come from different motivations, to listen, to have games to build community. We suggest that people at the end of each meeting consider what worked and what did not. Then this develops a feedback process to adjust and adapt. Different group composition creates different dynamics. The circle needs to be adaptive to these different conditions.

What happens if things are not working properly?
The group holds within it the seeds of how to figure out for itself how to solve problems within the circle. There can be meetings outside the circle to figure out how to orient and adjust so that the circle works.
What if a circle doesn’t have people who give?
A culture of giving needs to be grown. It can be useful to start off with people who already care about each other, and are more willing to give. Then as new people come in that culture can be shared. A sense of community and caring about each other creates the atmosphere for giving. If people are a little hesistant to give, the circle can orient itself a little more to building community, and a sense of shared identity. Improvisational exercises, games or icebreakers represent one way for people to relax and get to know each other more.
What is the role of higher consciousness in the gift circle?
A higher consciousness field allows people to become more connected, intuitive and open. There is an intuition of when to help someone out, what needs to express. The consciousness field can allow people to be heard, and that itself is transformative. The field guides the unfolding of the circle.
How does a circle get into higher consciousness states?
Listening, opening the heart, being vulnerable, silence after people express.
Where can I go to get in the discussion loop, find out more?


Get a copy of Alpha Lo’s and Alden Bevington’s book Open Collaborations, available at:

Is there a network of gift circles?
Yes there is, and they learn from each other different best practices, share knowledge, and help co-evolve the gift circle movement. There is beginning to be gatherings, workshops, and teleconferences that bring together people from different gift circles.

What are pods?
Pods are where two to four people get together from the gift circle and work on clarifying what their deeper intentions and goals are for life. From there they can make a strategy to achieve these goals, and figure what their needs are in relationship to these strategy. Fellow pod members commit to helping each other with these needs for a certain length of time which can be anywhere from 3 weeks to much longer. They also bring their needs to the larger regular gift circle. In this way over time people can keep track of how their needs are fitting into a longer range goal.

How does gift circles relate to neighborhood development projects?

Starting a gift circle in an area is a great way to begin the process to develop the social capital – networks of trust, people willing to help each other, with which you can then open-source community projects. So for instance if you wanted to start an urban farming/network of community gardens in your area, or you want to start a bike coop, or gift economy holistic health clinic, tapping into the power of a network of gift circles in your area for help with the project can get the project rapidly happening.

How can gift circles help with social justice issues?

Gift circles create a model where the people being helped also help others. So its more empowering than traditional welfare models. Gift circles have helped homeless people get housing whilst they are also helping others. Gift circles allow the rich to help the poor and the poor to help the rich.

What is an organizational gift circle?

This is a gift circle which brings together many different organizations. The organizations share their needs and gifts. This allows different organizations to begin synergizing, working together and sharing resources.


  1. Thank you. That is the only thorough explanation of the concept I've seen on the web.

  2. Just found this! Love it! I'm working on a community organization project in Portland, OR, and I really want to integrate Gift Circles. My Website is, contact me if you want to help me do this!