Love Where You Live: Why I Go ‘Round in Circles’!

August 28, 2015

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From JoAnn Turnquist: I’m delighted to introduce Dr. Benjamin Dixon, our first guest blogger in our “Love Where You Live” series. Dr. Dixon is the founder and President of COLA Gives, Columbia’s first African-American giving circle. Through his efforts, communities have come together to make a difference through collective giving. I hope his story inspires you to “love where you live” and “live what you love.”

JoAnn Turnquist



Why I Go ‘Round in Circles’!

By Ben Dixon


President Barack Obama said it well,

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  We are the change that we seek.”

After decades of trying to be the change I sought, I realized there was something missing from my strategy of “giving back” to various communities, and both loving where I lived (by trying to make a difference), and living what I love (by sharing what I have a passion for) in the process. Too often, it seemed, I found myself doing all this alone. Too often, I was sharing my treasure and talent with people I never even met.

So, I started going around in circles, first in Virginia, now in South Carolina. By joining hands, and linking arms with friends, family, and neighbors, we pooled our individual efforts and resources in order to significantly increase the probability that the community change we all sought would be achieved.

Direct collective action in the Black community is not a new idea. However, this emerging national community improvement strategy, called “Giving Circles” is a different approach to assuring that philanthropy on the ground is driven by activities that are energized, personalized, and localized (not just organized by highly funded national campaigns).

In Virginia, our giving circle, the New Mountain Climbers, made such an impact on our community, that nine other circles were created via the donor-advised fund process at the local community foundation. Almost all of these new circles either received direct technical assistance from NMC, or used its organizational model to guide their development. Helping to create South Carolina’s first African American Giving Circle is a direct outcome of my experience in the New River Valley in southwest Virginia. COLA Gives is a “Community Organized to Leverage Assets.”

COLA Gives is excited about celebrating this month two years of grants and recognition awards of talent, time, and treasure to non-profit groups who provide or deliver direct services and benefits to the community. Our celebration takes place as similar giving circles across the country celebrate August as national Black Philanthropy Month. These circles, along with COLA Gives, make up a larger collective effort called the Community Investment Network.

One goal of COLA Gives is to partner with organizations like Central Carolina Community Foundation to promote “giving circles” as more than just a term of art. It can be much more. It can be a demonstration of loving where we live and, with the right amount of passion surrounding it, living what we love. Indeed, we can all “go ‘round in circles” and be philanthropists right where we are.


Dr. Benjamin Dixon, President of COLA Gives is a retired Virginia Tech V.P., who advises, guides and assists leader managers of public, non-profit, corporate and community entities committed to making their organizations more diverse, inclusive, and productive. He founded Sankofa Futures Consulting, an executive coaching, training and consulting firm.




JoAnn Turnquist



JoAnn M. Turnquist is the President & CEO of Central Carolina Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization that links charitable people and businesses with areas of need in the Midlands. To learn more about the Foundation and view more blog posts, visit





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