Giving Done Right: Effective philanthropy and making every dollar count – Phil Buchanan

Reviewed by Michael Alberg-Seberich, Wider Sense

If you drew a map of philanthropy-land Giving Done Right would be the vast, fertile, middle ground situated between the mountains of Giving is like Business, the ocean of All Giving is Good and the great lake Government Can Do It Better. This map includes many ponds, deserts and fault lines with names like ‘Good Intentions’, ‘Impact Sand’ or ‘Disruption through Measurement’. The author charts this middle ground for donors, philanthropy professionals and everybody else who feels passionate about positive social and environmental progress. He includes marshlands, quicksand or hard-to-cross rivers and canyons. This land of giving is one of ‘uncertainty and concern’ as the author frames it.

One of the book’s assets is that Buchanan, who is president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy and brings nearly 20 years of working with both donors and foundations, has intentionally shadowed the work of grassroots organisations all over the US. He shows how important they are for the ecosystem of social change and that often change is reached place by place, person by person. Based on these narratives Buchanan’s reflex is not the one road or bridge that will solve all problems. He sticks to the role of a curious, encouraging but humble travel guide.

Reflection questions at the end of every chapter allow the reader to transfer the ideas and stories to their own context. At the end of the book they are equipped with a personal giving philosophy and an actionable plan. All based on the invitation to continuously reflect your own practise of giving. Buchanan encourages donors to leave their ‘bubble of positivity’, and face honest feedback loops to increase the impact of giving.

The book has been widely reviewed. What can be added besides the playful map metaphor? Well, the 200 pages are an accessible, easy read. Buchanan’s table on ‘10 Differences Between Ineffective and Effective Givers’ is a synopsis that may turn into a classic in philanthropy. Of interest to European readers, the table stresses the importance of participation, listening, collaboration in giving. This is in line with a growing discourse in Europe on exactly these traits as a means of strengthening philanthropy’s legitimacy.

What will really stick with many readers is Buchanan’s pledge to free the concept of strategy in philanthropy from that of the business world. For him, these are different sectors with different drivers: ‘uniqueness and distinct positioning’ in business, ‘shared approaches’ in philanthropy. The sentence, ‘In philanthropy, if your strategy is yours alone, it will almost surely fail.’ says it all. So much for the constant drive to be the most innovative or the owner of an idea in the sector.

Buchanan’s Giving Done Right is the right map for philanthropy in these changing times. It fulfils both the function of guide for newcomers but it also draws in the detail of resources, discourse and ideas that practitioners in the middle ground have been looking for. Recommended for everyday use to explore both charted and uncharted territory in philanthropy-land.

About the book
Published by: Public Affairs
Price: $28 (Hardback)
ISBN: 978-1-5417-4225-3
To order:

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Next Book review to read

Mr Five Per Cent: The many lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, the world’s richest man

David Cutler