Grapevine Giving Circles, Emily Rasmussen

Taking a deep breath with Emily Rasmussen

Sometimes, you can feel stuck. Like me, right now, trying to make justice to yet another amazing woman making a difference in the world. Giving Circles. Covid-19. $1.5 MM in donations. Going West. Yet again impostor syndrome wants to kick in. Will I make it? Will I give up this time around? I drag my feet around my puzzle, I question whether it is too late to do something good today. And then I stand up and remember Emily’s words. Take a deep breath. Surely words will come easy when you speak passionately. And indeed they do.

Giving Circles made simple

My guest for episode 6 is very close to my heart, even though we have never met before. Emily Rasmussen is the founder and CEO of Grapevine, a group giving platform that helps groups of friends, families, alumni, and more to create Giving Circles.

giving circle is a form of participatory philanthropy where groups of individuals donate their own money or time to a pooled fund, decide together where to give these away to charity or community projects and, in doing so, seek to increase their awareness of and engagement in the issues covered by the charity or community project.


I could not be more excited at the prospect of the Giving Circles concept being widely spread. After all, at the charity, we are always looking for the donour who is willing to endorse us and indeed create the scale effect that you get with a Giving Circle. Maybe one-day Grapevine will expand here! For now, it is yet another business that brings us a story of growth during Covid-19.

Bringing Giving Circles Online

Grapevine launched in March and since then they have managed to move $1.5 MM to non-profits, growing their MoM donations at 67% since then. These are not small numbers. Grapevine lives off “tips” from the donours, who can choose what to give on checkout, based (I guess) on their satisfaction with the service they are getting with Grapevine. And through the crisis, donours have indeed found benefit in using Grapevine.

Emily always believed there would be a transition from offline to online Giving Circles. As a long-standing concept, founders had often resistance in changing the format of how they met or how they pooled their donations. It was working in many ways to achieve the impact they wanted in the communities.

But along came Covid-19 and with it a huge social need. Members of giving circles around the US wanted to step up to this need. However, without the usual means of pooling resources and meeting in-person, they had to move online. Grapevine quickly expanded its offering to help members set up zoom meetings and organise virtual events. They also created mechanisms to allow people to donate out of their usual giving schedule and added the ability to invite friends outside a circle to donate.

The troubling times

It was not all roses, so to speak. In fact, as the crisis hit, Emily was faced with the round of financing the company was doing frozen as investors stayed on the sidelines to see how things developed. At the same time, the volume of work went crazy for the team of 6, working by then between the East and West Coast as well as Argentina. The team made use of virtual stand-ups to stay connected (even though they mostly did not stand) and Emily believes they got much better at using slack. Finally, she feels like they also grew more flexible in their working practices, knowing people were home all with different circumstances. There are things they will keep when all this is over, whatever over means at this point.

Growth on the Horizon

At the same time, growing their community at such a fast pace also allowed them to choose a new path of growth – reaching out to this same community to support their equity crowdfunding. The pressure to grow is significant as the need for charity funding is unabated. Emily wants to follow along what Grapevine donours are asking. They want to service existing Giving Circles but also help the creation of brand new Giving Circles that did not exist offline before.

So they are offering a piece of the equity action in return for a small investment from the community. It reminds me of Martina in Episode 2 – never stop adapting she said!

Changing life

Emily also took the bold decision to listen to her mum and move back home to North California to avoid spending the lockdown period in New York. She moved for a few weeks and has now been there for five months. She was lucky to have her own space and keep with her intense hours of work and for now, she can only found positives in the move. The downside will be when she moves out most likely. I think my Mum will relate to that next week when we board that flight back.

At home, Emily could dedicate more time to cooking with her Mum and have meals together, making sure she actually had time for a short break away from work. She started doing more walks and even tried walking meetings as a way to stay active whilst coping with the demands of her business. We both agreed running meetings were a step too further from where our fitness levels were.

Managing Challenges

Looking back, the biggest challenge for Emily was to deal with the unknown. It is hard to plan or respond if you don’t know what is happening next. Emily brings us a few good tips on keeping her sanity through the crisis times. Firstly, she kept up with her morning journaling practice, which she highly recommends. Also, getting out of the unstoppable NY life, Emily also found that time moved at a more contained pace. Time did not fly.

Reflecting on the last 5 months, her advice to self would be to take a deep breath and surround herself with people that can help her see the forest from the trees and where they are in the bigger picture. She feels like they were in such crisis mode that this was not always possible.

With my charity hat on, I am delighted at how Grapevine found ways to allow charities to continue sourcing financing to the immense need they had on the ground. With my business hat on, I am excited to see how a business could grow out of proportion as a side-effect of this crisis. And me, I just loved meeting yet another amazing woman doing business that is truly changing the world.

Emily’s Lockdown List

  • Book: Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
  • Sport: Hiking
  • Technology: Zoom
  • Lesson: The Value of Connection
  • Word: Tumultuous (but also educational, inspiring, challenging)

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