written by Arne Bollinger on Dec. 8, 2014, 4:44 p.m.

The gift-economy auction or gift-circle

During the communities-convergences and several presentations I, Arne, came up with this concept. 
Feel free to use it and if you have better ideas and inspirations how to do it, please share them with us! It is very easy, powerful and inspiring, you don't have to do much..

A gift-circle is a very easy and straight-forward format to use the power of unconditional support and crowdsourcing in your projects or communities. Everyone has so much to share and give: Knowledge, experiences, skills, ideas, helping hands and propably a lot of trinkets that are not useful to us anymore, but very much longed for by others. But if we dont communicate our ressources and needs, nobody will find out and everybody will keep piling trash.
Gift-circles are not only a great tool to deepen the connections, relationships and social support in your existing community, but ff you start a gift-circle with random strangers, they will very fast become a tight-nit community just by sharing their needs and supporting each other in their daily lives. From this kind of community we will get so much more than we could use money to buy from, as people will then support each other even in hard times, when it is not so easy to ask for help. Social belonging is a basic human need that is not only a remainder of evolution to secure our survival, it is necessary for our physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing. So naturally, after doing it once, people will want to keep doing it again and again. It is a great idea to combine a gift-circle with other forms of get-togethers and nice things, like a potluck, a literature or movie night, games, dance and party.

I started out by calling this format "gift-auctions" and made a funny playful show, to encourage people to attend. I was auctioning off peoples wishes, asking around to fulfill them. But after a while, people started taking over the concept, and they came up with wishes and offers faster than I could facilitate.

I found out that this format already exists in a pretty similar form, called the gift-circle. Alpha Lo was one of the pioneers spreading that format: https://opencollaboration.wordpress.com/2009/11/28/gift-circle-faq/
We will continue and refine this format, but call it gift-circle instead, because this is a term already known and an establishing practice. If you leave away the whole auction show it is easier to reproduce and host by anyone and also it strengthens the initiative and self-responsibility of the participants, which will evolve naturally.
From experience we can say that it still always helps to have a facilitator.

We host gift-circles at all our events, this is also a great opportunity to get support and donations for your project in form of services and things. You can use them also internally for your community to first see who in the community can answer your needs. You can do them on a regular basis and as soon as some people know how it works, you don’t need to facilitate, new people will just join in naturally. Of course, anyone can ask a specific person if they have a wish, that is very beautiful. And remember: Gift-circles are not just for wishing things, but you can offer something to share as well.


How to host a gift-circle

  1. You need a flipchart or big paper and a marker (pen) and a small paper and a pen. It also REALLY helps if everybody brings a paper and a pen, so they can take notes for themselves who to contact later.
  2. On the big paper you draw a table to record the offers and needs. We suggest the following structure:
    Offer (orange pen) or Need (green pen) From (Name + Contact)

    For (Name + Contact)

  3. It helps to have these roles:
    1. Facilitator (keeps the flow and helps shy people)
    2. Scribe (Writes down offers, wishes and names)
    3. Timekeeper (If in an agreed timeframe, remember everyone to stop soon, otherwise just go with the flow and stop when it's time :)
  4. The group forms a circle, so everybody can see everybody. Standing you have more dynamic, but sitting for longer sessions works just as fine.
  5. At the beginning and during the circle you give around the small paper with people to sign up their email address and name. - This is important to fulfill the wishes later! You can also use a tablet or smartphone, then it is just copy-paste for the email later.
  6. You can make a funny show as it would be an auction, but you don't have to ;) Otherwise it is just a regular gift-circle.
    1. Ask for wishes, first wishes first, 3, 2, 1.. Somebody will come up with somthing like a massage or a pen. If not just give suggestions of something that is very easy to fulfill.
    2. Then you collect bids for this wish: Who can fulfill this wish 3, 2, 1..
    3. If no one signs up, then you ask: “Who knows someone who can help with this wish?” If no one signs up you ask: “Who has an idea how to help with this wish?” (building the thing, organizing an event, where to look for information etc..) Make sure that the circle stays with finding a solution together, instead of someone jumping in with the next wish. That way people go away from problem(-solution) thinking, like just use money and buy it. Instead they start developing a systemic thinking of what existing factors could I stimulate to help with the fulfillment of this wish. This kind of thinking is much more social, holistic, healthy and intelligent. It is the basis of gift-economy and of a new culture of responsibility and collective intelligence. he limits to find solutions is just people’s imagination. You can make World-Cafés, Fishbowls, Open-Spaces, use Drivers and Proposal Forming from Sociocracy 3.0, “How would you solve this?”-rounds to find solutions for complex needs.
  7. If the wish is granted in a way you write down the wish, the wishing and the fulfilling person on the flipchart paper. It can be the job of the scribe or the facilitator to consolidate peoples wishes into one word or sentence. This helps the wishing person to be more concrete and the fulfillers to feel addressed :)
  8. You start again to ask for the next wish, etc. If there are just wishes for more than half an hour (usually) you can say how this shows our consumer culture and that it is very rewarding to offer things.
  9. We suggest to keep it not longer than 1,5 hours, because the energy might drop. It depends on the location and group. You can throw in energizers or do something together in betwen (you can invite for a potluck before, so everybody brings food and then you have a nice buffet to snack after the circle)
  10. In the end you can make a photo of the paper or make a digitally written copy on computer (spreadsheet) and then send it around to all the email adresses on the paper. If you make a spreadsheet we could even import the data into a system like ecobasa later if people wish. Then their wishes are much more likely to be fulfilled :)
  11. Remind the people that they are self-responsible to follow up on their wishes and that they have to make contact to their wish-fulfillers.
  12. If they want, they can share their success stories with the others on the email list, or with the ecobasa gift-economy network, to inspire others to host more gift-circles!

Karma Rules

  1. Know that there is no wish-fulfillment guarantee.
  2. The greater the wish, the more karma.
    Just go for it, you might be lucky ;)
  3. Your concern may only spread good karma.
    The Gift Circle is not a place to make revenge plans, plan pranks or organize crimes. How about with bliss, surprise parties or forgiveness instead? :)
  4. The person asking for a wish is self-responsible for its fulfillment.
    Everybody that wishes or offers help / tips / contacts is responsible for approaching the respective persons. Take notes and don't be shy to ask again for names and contacts!
  5. Ask for support that can not be measured in money.
    The gift-circle is not a place to buy and sell. Rather, you can ask for objects, ideas, contacts or mutual learning.
  6. Give unconditional.
    Don't expect anything in return, that kills the magic.
  7. Just give what you can give.
    You are not obliged to do something that does not feel good to you. Pay attention to your own energy resources and what you can easily give away and what not. We want this to be sustainable!
  8. The possibilities of how to help someone in the circle are infinite!
    Use dormant treasures, knowledge, experiences, creative ideas, contacts, networks and collective effort.

Inspired by KarmaKreis from Pierre Lischke

Some inspiring stories

On the Danube Communities-Convergence in Romania a woman wished for an ebook reader. Nobody had one to give away of course. And nobody knew anybody who would give one away. So one person had the idea to buy one. Well, not very suprising.. but: We then collected donations and in one minute we had enough money to buy a used one on ebay.
So money can also be a resource in the gift-economy, no problem, it is the way you handle it that makes the difference!

At the GEN meeting in Germany, a woman whished for somebody to cut the grass of her community's land with a scythe, because it was not possible with a lawnmower on this terrain. A man said that he could do it. Many people were impressed and wanted to learn how to do it. We came up with the idea to host a workshop for scythe sharpening and mowing at her place to cut the grass with many people in a short time and have a learning experience for everyone at the same time. 4 people from the group wanted to join the workshop already.
So next time they can host 4 workshops in 4 communities..

More youtube inspirations:

If you use this concept, please share some stories with us! They are so precious as an inspiration and learning for others! Either contact us by email, or write a comment below.

Happy giving!


The gift-auction from Arne Bollinger is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/