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Jordan says she was drawn in by promises of a living workshop with built-in leadership training, and the fact that all of her friends were doing it, despite initial misgivings that "something was not right." She enjoyed the weekly sisterhood phone conferences centered around empowerment, esteem-building and manifestation of dreams. But after nine months, Jordan became uncomfortable with the constant push to invite other women into the circle (she was encouraged not to use the word "recruit"), even if it meant convincing them to go into debt to procure the $5,000 entry "gift." She asked to be gifted out, and describes how the group leader brought her to tears after suggesting that she couldn't move past her "blocks" enough to let the money go.
"They made me feel less evolved for wanting to drop out," Jordan explains. Now, good friends still entrenched in "circle culture" won't return her calls.
- LOTUS BLOSSOM No matter how participants feminize it, there's nothing circular about the distribution of cash in the "circle."
Jordan describes a culture of willful blindness, blind faith and good intentions gone south that infused her particular circle. When one "Senior Sister" (the name given to women who have gone through multiple circles and now act as mentors to new circlers) was asked during an "Invitation Inspiration Call" about the sustainability of the whole enterprise, she said she wasn't a math person, and changed the subject.
One woman who's unafraid to do the math is Amber Bieg, a 33-year-old economic planner and sustainability consultant from San Francisco. Bieg first came across gifting circles in 2012. During a spiritual ceremony in Nevada City, she confessed to the woman next to her that she yearned to move to the area, but she and her husband were short the $40,000 needed to make it happen.
"She got really quiet and said, 'I know where you can get the money and get the sisterhood you've been craving,' " Bieg recalls. That same week, a friend from Marin sent out a circle invitation. Soon, it occurred to Bieg that 90 percent of the women she knew were either involved with or had been asked to join a gifting circle. This is when the MBA dug in and did the math that others had refused to acknowledge.