The Best Books on Philanthropy

Philanthropy may be as small as giving away used toys, or as big as a multi-billion dollar donation. It’s about looking out for each other and supporting those in need. Perhaps you are looking for ways to give back to your community – because that’s the type of community you want to live in – but you’re not sure where to start. This week we’ve selected books that cover different aspects of philanthropy, from how-to guides, to inspirational manifestos to sociopolitical analyses – offering lots of ideas and food for thought.

Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference by William MacAskill

Think of Doing Good Better as a guide on how to turbocharge philanthropy – it is an (entertaining and highly readable) primer on effective altruism, a philosophy focussed on maximising the good you can achieve.  Effective altruism uses a mix of ethics, logic, economics and data analysis to question the normally sentimental basis for doing good.  Using many surprising examples (eg de-worming can have a bigger impact on educational outcomes than donating books and stationery), William MacAskill argues that there can be more than 100-fold difference between doing good, and doing the most good possible.  Doing Good Better challenges our thinking, and suggests a new framework for making the biggest difference we can.

The Ask: for Business, for Philanthropy, for Everyday Living by Laura Fredericks JD

The Ask is, very simply, a guide on how to ask for that donation / promotion / anything you really want.  It is a tool that helps us develop the confidence and skills to overcome our fear of asking for things, particularly money. The Ask contains a simple framework backed by detailed instructions – how to plan, what to say, what not to say – that Laura Fredericks developed through years of experience as a lawyer and professional fundraiser – asking the right questions to get what she wanted.  So whether you are a parent fundraising for your school; or you work in the non-profit sector; or perhaps you want a promotion, or another personal goal – The Ask is the self-help book that will help you get what you want. 

Generation Impact: how Next Gen Donors are Revolutionizing Giving by Sharna Goldseker and Michael Moody

We are at the cusp of a new “golden age of giving”, where entrepreneurship has enabled massive wealth creation, much of which will be donated to charitable causes.  However, the philanthropy landscape is changing – not only are philanthropists getting younger – with entrepreneurs actively donating in their 30s and even 20s – they are also taking a more hands-on approach, donating their skills, time and influence, actively tracking the impact of their donations.  Generation Impact is a detailed survey of the state of this next-gen philanthropy and the opportunities it offers. A must-read for anyone interested in philanthropy, nonprofits, impact investing, and social change.

Giving: Purpose is the New Currency by Alexandre Mars

Alexandre Mars is a tech entrepreneur turned (nearly) full-time philanthropist.  In fact, he has taken it one step further, working to help normalise giving for both individuals and organisations. His challenge?  There are three main barriers to overcome – people don’t know where to give, don’t have time to research charities, and don’t trust their money is being spent well. His solution? He created the Epic Foundation, which emphasises transparency and performance analysis when choosing the causes it supports; it also offers an app for donors to track their impact in real time. Giving: Purpose is the New Currency is Alexandre Mars’s journey from venture capitalist to activist; it is his mission statement, and a call to arms for everyone to view giving as an encouraging and joyful practice.

Just Giving: why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and how it can Do Better by Rob Reich

Rob Reich is a political scientist asking a thought-provoking question: is philanthropy a threat to democracy?  In Just Giving, Rob Reich investigates the ethical and political dimensions of philanthropy, and calls for reform to how it’s structured and incentivised.  Read it and see if you agree with his argument that philanthropy, especially by wealthy individuals or big organisations, is an exercise of power that can influence policy without accountability; or that in some (many?) cases, philanthropy actually worsens inequality.

The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age by David Callahan

The Givers shares some of the concerns raised in the previous book, Just Giving – that a growing group of ultra-rich philanthropists, fully confident in their (and their vast wealth’s) ability to solve problems, is effectively directing public policy by pouring millions into their pet causes.  What’s more, this is often done without the type of scrutiny or public consultations required of public officials.  David Callahan gives us an insider’s view of elite philanthropy – by people like Bill and Melinda Gates and Mark Zuckerberg – and how their more hands-on approach, coupled with clear social and political viewpoints, is changing the way philanthropy interacts with politics and public policy.  

About Karen Seligman

Karen Seligman is a newly-qualified librarian working in a public library. As a book- and library-lover from way back, she finds nothing better than being surrounded by books and other library-lovers! Karen’s past lives as a law graduate, corporate warrior and research scientist continue to inform her wide-ranging tastes in reading material, with her favourite genres including historical fiction, fantasy, food writing and popular science.