Giving with Confidence: A guide to savvy philanthropy

Giving with ConfidenceAnother book on giving! Another book for donors! With books like Thomas J Tearney and Joel L Fleishman’s Give Smart: Philanthropy that gets results; Do More than Give: The six practices of donors who changed the world by Leslie Crutchfield, John Kania and Mark Kramer; Caroline Fiennes’ It Ain’t What You Give, It’s the Way that You Give, and many others, the last two years have seen a boom in books on the principles of philanthropy. All these books inform and inspire people to give in a more engaged, strategic way. They address different kinds of donors and also variations of ways how to give.

This one, by Colburn Wilbur, former CEO of the Packard Foundation, and Fred Setterberg, co-author of various philanthropy publications, is a new member of the line-up. Giving with Confidence is based on Wilbur’s experience as a (professional) donor. He is therefore also the narrator. As a reader, it is sometimes irritating that this is a book written by two authors with only one voice.

Back to the actual topic of the book: the narrator adds a personal, human-centred perspective to the reading list on giving. He wants to encourage the giving of individuals, smaller family foundations and people who are engaged as trustees in such foundations. The book addresses ‘smaller’ donors who – looking at reports like Giving USA – are the real backbone of US philanthropy. The only disappointment is that this book, like many others written on the other side of the Atlantic, is written solely from a US perspective.

Wilbur adopts the voice of a mentor, a friend. He often takes as a starting point or illustration his experiences as a donor mentor and foundation manager. He translates terms like due diligence, reporting systems and data philanthropy into terms that are accessible to everybody who considers forms of planned giving part of their life.

The message of this book is not so different from the others mentioned above, with one exception. The narrator also educates the reader about the importance of giving while living, and having a giving plan. He argues for the case of discretionary, multiple-year funding for not-for-profits – a given in our minds but not in our work. He points towards a more progressive risk-taking culture in philanthropy. He shows how new technology can support your giving decisions these days. He does so by adding quotes to his narrative of personal conversations with key players in US philanthropy and stories of donors from various walks of life. In addition, every chapter of the book refers to key facts and directs the reader towards additional, more in-depth information on each topic. He sums all this up in Seven Proposals for More Powerful Giving. These proposals should be part of every donor’s principles of giving.

It is the overall tone of the book that distinguishes it from others in this field. Reading it, I was reminded of the human and humanistic base of philanthropy. Wilbur brings to life in his narrative the personal dimension of giving. The book is a pledge to consider (more) giving really as part of one’s life. This pledge is not forced upon the reader. The book has a built-in step-by-step process that may, in the end, help many readers to feel more confident about their giving.

To take one example of his approach, Wilbur is passionate about learning more about an issue and a grantee through site visits. He encourages donors to learn about societal challenges on the basis of facts. But he doesn’t just believe in the importance of direct experience. He weaves into his narrative the stories of other donors, and urges us to learn from their emotions and experiences.

Another example is Wilbur’s chapter on values. He breaks down the values the Packard Foundation uses for their grantmaking into a set that is applicable to the target group of this book and even adds to this ways to practically test whether a donation fits their personal values.

Yes, this is another book on giving, but it has found in just 143 pages its very own tone to translate the principles of giving for a wider audience.

Michael Alberg-Seberich is managing partner at Active Philanthropy. Email

To order

Giving with Confidence: A guide to savvy philanthropy
Colburn Wilbur and Fred Setterberg  Heyday Books  $22.50
ISBN 978-1597142045

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