Best philanthropy books


Sean Stannard-Stockton


The Chronicle of Philanthropy is building the ‘Ultimate Philanthropy Bookshelf‘ and looking to crowdsource recommendations.

We’ve started discussions on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to collect your nominations for what should be included in the ultimate philanthropy bookshelf. We’ll collect those submissions and from them, we’ll create a new Web feature that spotlights your favorites.

To follow the conversation on Twitter, simply search for the hashtag #philanthropybooks.

If you don’t want to limit your submissions to 140 characters, please join The Chronicle’s groups on Facebook and LinkedIn and participate in the conversation there.

In 2007, I asked for my readers’ and other bloggers’ favorite philanthropy books. The exercise resulted in this list, which is currently the #1 Google result for ‘best philanthropy books’.

Here’s my personal list of best philanthropy books. Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments section or share them with the Chronicle of Philanthropy using one of the methods listed above.

Strategic Giving, Peter Frumkin

reviewed this book in April 2009. At the time I said, ‘Strategic Giving is one of the best philanthropy books I’ve read… Unlike many philanthropy books that either examine recent trends in philanthropy or argue in favor of a certain approach, Strategic Giving is a lucid, compelling exploration of the art and science of philanthropy.’ Frumkin advances a way of understanding philanthropy as being driven by five purposes, which I think helps the reader understand many of the big debates in philanthropy.

Grassroots Philanthropy, Bill Somerville

I reviewed this book for the Financial Times in May 2008. At the time I wrote, ‘In Grassroots Philanthropy, Somerville describes in engaging prose how to be an effective philanthropist. With no agenda other than his need to set things right in the world, he lays out a series of principles that can be adopted by both endowed national foundations and those with lesser means, providing they have an urge to use their wealth to improve the world. The philanthropy practiced by Somerville is energizing, creative and clearly effective to anyone who spends a day visiting the people he funds. In a philanthropic world being revolutionized by new approaches to giving, Somerville is both a throwback to simpler times and a leap forward towards high-impact, efficient giving that embraces imagination and risk-taking.’

Creating Philanthropic Capital Markets, Lucy Bernholz

Lucy’s book was foundational in creating my view of philanthropy. She is the most prescient observer of trends in philanthropy and while this book was published in 2004, it still as fresh as ever.

CauseWired, Tom Watson

I reviewed this book in January of last year writing, ‘Most people in philanthropy kind of get that the web and “social media” applications are having an important impact on the field, but they don’t really understand what it all means. If this describes you, you need to make it your New Year’s resolution to read the outstanding book. Writing in an ultra-readable style, Tom draws you into the strange, evolving world of social media. Unlike so many people who write about technology, Tom doesn’t geek out on the high-tech elements of the web. What he realizes and what he communicates so well to his readers is the idea that the social web is just a new tool set for impacting the cause.’

Forces for Good, Leslie Crutchfield & Heather McLeod Grant

Crutchfield and Grant used Jim Collins’ ground-breaking Good to Great model for understanding organizational excellence to reverse engineer the practices of outstanding nonprofits. Heartily endorsed by Collins himself, this book offers excellent real world examples of what great nonprofits actually look like.

Philanthropy Reconsidered, George McCully

I unfortunately never got around to reviewing this book, but found it to be one of the most enlightening books about the fundamental issues that give rise to philanthropy. McCully works to explain what philanthropy actually is, shows how its meaning has shifted from the Greeks’ and Romans’ understanding to the early Christians and the role of philanthropy in the American Revolutions (did you know the founding fathers’ signed their letters ‘philanthropically yours’?)

Uncharitable, Dan Pallotta

reviewed this book in December of 2008. At the time I wrote, ‘Readers of Uncharitable will find many things they disagree with. My friend Robert Egger is quoted in a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy review of Uncharitable saying that “[Pallotta] strip-mined the cause. He did a tremendous disservice.” Another friend of mine who does charity evaluation work emailed me after reading Uncharitable (at my suggestion): “Oy vey!!!!!! I have gotten to page 10 and can not believe how much I disagree with the guy!’

I urge you to read Uncharitable not as a list of suggestions that I think you should agree with, but as a challenge to the assumptions you make about charity and social good. The benefit you should take from the book are not prescriptive actions but a cracking of dogmatic beliefs you don’t fully realize you hold.

Pallotta opens the book with a quote from George Bernard Shaw: ‘All great truths begin as blasphemies,’ and another from John Kenneth Galbraith, ‘All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door.’

A Kid’s Guide to Giving, Freddi Zeiler

My wife saw this on the counter of our local bookstore and brought me home a copy. This amazing book was written by a 14-year-old who decided to donate the money from her piggy bank to charity, but couldn’t figure out where to begin. She ended up gathering so much information that, with the prompting of her mother, she wrote a book for other kids. This hugely accessible book is an excellent introductions to charitable giving for the everyday donor. I recommend it for adults as well as teenagers.


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