One of the first obstacles people face when they plan giving away some of their wealth is the difficulty of getting started. We certainly hear a lot of that at NPC: individuals put money into a charitable trust only to encounter problems when trying to actually distribute the cash. This book is written to help people overcome such problems and tackle social issues, whether they want to volunteer as a kids’ rugby coach, provide coding skills to a charity in a weekend’s hackathon, become an ‘informed consumer’, or give or invest spare cash.
However, while it’s good to see Charity and Philanthropy For Dummies – in the For Dummies series, now over 1,800 titles – showing the variety of ways for individuals to get involved, and providing practical information to help them, the book tries to cover too much ground, and may end up confusing more people than it helps as they try to navigate the myriad opportunities. Not all the issues it covers, for example – topics as diverse as car-sharing programmes, visiting eco-friendly cities and preparing for your own end-of-life care – seem natural territory for a book about philanthropy.
So who is it aimed at? It appears to have been written for anyone interested in making the world a better place, whatever their resources. And it’s not just about giving money: one of the strongest aspects of the book is its focus on all the other resources we can use for good, through the four Ts – Time, Talents, Treasure (money and assets) and Transactions.
The book is in four parts. The first concentrates on how to get started, by assessing why you want to give, what and how much of the four Ts you have to give away, and how to find a cause that sparks your passion. The second takes five key sectors and offers ideas on how to help within each – education, the elderly, health, children and the environment. The third section focuses on practical ways to get involved, taking each of the four Ts in turn as well as discussing impact investing, law and tax. The final section, as in all For Dummies books, is the ‘Tens’ section – ten reasons to give, ten ways to start giving, and so on.
The book uses abundant examples to bring each concept to life. Well-known philanthropists like Bill and Melinda Gates are profiled, as are many lesser-known individuals and organizations doing inspiring things. I particularly like the case study of Somaly Mam, a Cambodian victim of the sex trade, who along with two Americans set up a foundation to rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate other victims of human trafficking and sex slavery. And there are interesting sections on how innovations in technology can solve social issues, such as the rise in crowdfunding and internet gaming for good. NPC’s recent research has shown how much such technology has come to the fore in new philanthropic initiatives around the world.
But Charity and Philanthropy for Dummies is a frustrating read, too. I was reviewing the version published in the UK, and clearly the publishers have attempted to make it as relevant as possible for the audience here. But many of the practical issues, such as how to donate from retirement plans, use US examples, which are of limited help to UK residents.
I was interested to see how the authors would cover the kinds of questions that NPC comes across most often. On the whole, I was disappointed. One key misstep was the treatment of social impact, a subject close to NPC’s heart. Of nearly 400 pages, barely a few paragraphs cover impact, and they mainly focus on ensuring that money reaches the chosen charity. I would have liked to see some key questions to guide donors as they look to fund a high-impact charity: ‘What does success look like for you?’, for example. Or ‘How do you know if you have succeeded?’ or ‘What is your charity’s particular contribution to the sector you are working in?’
There are some missed opportunities here, but in general a book of this nature is to be welcomed. Anything to encourage more and better giving is extremely helpful.
About the book
Published by: Wiley
Plum Lomax is deputy head of the funders team at NPC. Email Plum.Lomax@thinkNPC.org