The Gift Circle: Cultivating Community

Charles Eisenstein (pictured) wrote, “community is woven from gifts”.

The gift economy represents a shift from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, scarcity to abundance and isolation to community. – Charles Eisenstein

The Gift Circle is an ancient practice that’s weaving its way into our modern world – and it’s about creating an alternative economy based on sharing. The distinctive feature of a gift economy is that people give of their possessions and services with no expectation of return.

I got the idea to start my own Gift Circle after reading Charles Eisenstein’s article on the gift economy and building community. (To read the article, visit

Eisenstein is one of the best thinkers on alternative economics in the world and he writes of our urgent need to rebuild community. We must create more compassionate and trusting relationships and the key to this is to become givers rather than consumers; a Gift Circle is the perfect conduit for this because we share our surplus rather than hoarding it and — most importantly — we keep our wealth moving.

One person wrote this about her Gift Circle: “Members of my circle are already noticing changes: we use less money as more of our needs are met by each other rather than the local shopping centre and we’re also wasting less as even old olive oil tins and polystyrene boxes are needed by group members for gardening and storage projects.

What we’re also finding is a shift in the way we relate to each other as our gifts are freely given and gratefully received. It’s hard to describe the sense of trust and warmth our circle is developing and I’d suggest starting your own to find out. It’s no exaggeration to say that, for the first time in my life, I’ve had direct experience of Earth’s abundance and of the adage ‘Those who ask shall receive.’”

Here’s how a Gift Circle works: you’ll need about 10 to 20 people. You start with a few information sessions so people can decide if they want to commit to the group. If there is an abundance of people wanting to take part, then you start multiple groups.

It’s important everyone is clear from the start that it’s not a bartering system (although people are welcome to barter on the side) as people share their services as a gift without expectation of anything in return.

Everyone sits in a circle and takes turns expressing one or two needs they have. For example, a lift to the airport, a ladder to clean roof gutters, a bag of lemons, etc.

As each person shares, others in the circle can interrupt and offer to meet the requested need or with ideas on how to satisfy it.

When all have had their turn, you go around the circle again, each person stating something he or she would like to give. For example, time, skills, or material things. It might also be the gift of the use of something or an outright material gift. Again, as each person shares, anyone can speak up and say, “I’d like that,” or “I know someone who could use one of those.”

During both rounds, someone writes down everything and sends an email to everyone the next day. This way it’s easy to remember everyone’s needs and offerings.

It’s imperative to follow-up or the gift circle will end up breeding resentment and cynicism rather than community. Someone in the group must take on this role and be prepared to keep it all together. Consider it as a service to the world.

Finally, the circle does a third round in which people express gratitude for things they received since the last meeting. This round is very important because, in community, the witnessing of others’ generosity inspires generosity in those who witness it. It confirms this group is giving to each other, that gifts are recognized, and that my own gifts will be recognized and appreciated as well.

It is just that simple: needs, gifts, and gratitude. But the effects can be profound.

First, Gift Circles – and any gift economy – can reduce our dependence on the traditional market. If people give us things we need, then we needn’t buy them. I won’t need to take a taxi to the airport tomorrow and Rachel won’t have to buy lumber for her garden. The less we use money, the less time we need to spend earning it, and the more time we have to contribute to the gift economy, and receive from it. It is a virtuous circle.

Second, a gift circle reduces our production of waste. It is ridiculous to pump oil, mine metal, manufacture a table and ship it across the ocean when half the people in town have old tables in their basements. It is ridiculous as well for each household on my block to own a lawnmower, which they use two hours a month, a leaf blower they use twice a year, power tools they use for an occasional project, and so on.

If we shared these things, we would suffer no loss of quality of life. Our material lives would be just as rich, yet would require less money and less waste.

If you would like to learn more about the viability and importance of a new / gift economy, and experience the convergence of worlds of spirituality and activism, you may join our gift circle, or you can learn more directly from Charles Eisenstein by joining one of his PWYC workshops in Toronto. There you will explore Sacred Economics and be inspired to take your next step forward and create the new, more beautiful world your heart knows is possible.

Robert Helmer graduated from the Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 1998 and several years later became the first person to specialize in the treatment of children in Ontario, using TCM. Robert is a well-respected teacher, author, and practitioner of Chinese Medicine. His post-graduate studies and work in pediatrics led him to work in China (on four occasions) as well as in England, Germany, U.S., and Canada. For more information, please contact him by email at

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