What is a Gift Circle?

It is an amazing experience to be part of a gift circle. Each time, I leave the meeting with lots of positive energy and a reinforced belief that people are good, truly good. In the gift circle, it becomes obvious that we live in abundance and that if we only allow needs and resources to meet, we are all rich. The good energy transmits and I feel like the world is softer and friendlier for several days afterwards, actually all the time. I feel high on good intentions and positive energies.

A gift circle is an open group of people, who meet-up regularly with the aim to help each other, by stating their needs and offering their services – without the expectation of anything in return. The gifted things can be as diverse as the people joining the gift circle: babysitting, a conversation, a new pullover, a massage, help with repairing something. The exchange of those gifts is moderated by the structure of the gift circle. Often a gift circle is structured like this:

Gift circle flow web

But this is definitely not the only way to run a gift circle. Feel free to experiment with the concept, keep the parts you like and drop those which seem not to support the idea. The idea of gift circles was originally developed by Alpha Lo, who established the first circles in the U.S. Since then the concept has spread, in different forms, all over the world.

If you burn to try this out, go to the next page to join a gift circle nearby.

You can also look at the following videos, to get an impression of how a gift circle feels:
What’s a Gift Circle? A peek into the Oakland Gift Circle
It Takes a Village

Or if you have still many questions, keep on reading the FAQ below, inspired by Alpha Lo’s description:

What is the purpose of a gift circle?
We envision a world united by love and respect, in which individuals are free to develop, express and share their unique potential, and trust each other to meet their needs. The gift circle is an active and creative step towards such a more beautiful world our hearts know is possible. We experience to help each other and to create a sense of community, which furthers 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.

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 is 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 the 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.

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.

How often does a gift circle meet?
That’s very much up to the individual gift circle. It can be once a week, or once a month or also more spontaneous.

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 state 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.