Beware! The author of this book has a mission. Reading this book review in Alliance, the chances are high that you’ll share it. Laurence Brady is convinced that philanthropy has an important role to play to make this world a better one. To do so, we need to develop a philanthropy narrative that people can relate to, he thinks. For Brady, this narrative is the key to motivate others to become engaged donors, social investors or philanthropists.
Laurence Brady is a British philanthropy practitioner and thinker. He works as a consultant in philanthropy and fundraising, has taken on numerous volunteer positions in the field, and is founder of the Sir Thomas Lipton Foundation. His book consists of three parts. The first is a long essay in which Brady develops his theory of the seven pillars of philanthropy. In the second part he portrays seven European philanthropists (Gianni Agnelli, Robert Bosch, Sir John Ellerman, Calouste Gulbenkian, Juan March, Stavros Niarchos and Bernard van Leer). The last part of the book is an interview with the investor and Absolute Return for Kids founder Arpad Busson.
Seven Pillars of Philanthropy is based on a philosophical, historical journey back in time. Brady shows how philanthropy, based on European cultural heritage, has developed over time. In the opening chapter he derives from this history of thought and action his seven pillars of philanthropy. The pillars are stewardship, vision, heritage, conscience, serendipity, crisis and partnership. The pillars are widely applicable and could, for instance, be included in the questionnaire the US-based National Center for Family Philanthropy uses to develop strategies for family foundations. I tried them in a conversation with a donor. The conversation that developed around a set of questions based on the seven pillars of philanthropy was very productive and paved the way for further conversations on the donor’s social investing.
Placing this analytical chapter at the beginning of the book seemed confusing to me. The chapter again and again references biographies that are described in the second part of the book. After reading the short portraits of European philanthropists I valued the analytical chapter a lot more. I actually re-read it. In addition – this may be a personal preference – I am missing a total overview graphic or visualization of the seven pillars. For me this would have been an additional guide through the book.
The seven short biographies of European philanthropists are an exciting addition to the philanthropy literature. Brady’s book allows a wider English-speaking community access to the lives of philanthropists from all over Europe. One of the biographies’ stunning features is how the sixth pillar of philanthropy, ‘crisis’, has actually shaped the giving of these successful entrepreneurs, inventors and businessmen. The experience of the Second World War, for example, strongly influenced the giving strategies of the German engineer Robert Bosch and the Dutch tradesman Bernard van Leer. The crisis caused them to act. Looking back it also created tremendous personal, ethical and societal dilemmas. While reading this it becomes clear that philanthropy is not about a black-and-white world. Philanthropy struggles with the world’s complexity and the human fates this entails.
These stories become deeply moving when they are set in contrast to the donors’ personal passions. The Spaniard Juan March discovering his passion for art or Bernard van Leer founding a circus are good examples. They present stories that only life could write.
The book ends with an interview with Arpad Busson. The interview takes the reader on the personal journey of this ‘celebrity investor’ as he developed a passion for giving and a toolbox for it. This interview is like a bridge in time. Busson documents European heritage and how this has contributed to developing a global responsibility and understanding of philanthropy. Busson’s ideas of partnership, scaling or describing impact are like cases taken from a textbook of modern-day philanthropy.
Seven Pillars of Philanthropy is a fascinating tour through 20th-century European philanthropy. Brady says in his introduction that this book is not about European philanthropy, but he nevertheless establishes a narrative about giving on this continent. This narrative closes a gap in understanding the uniqueness of giving in Europe. It also reveals the common values that philanthropy shares all over the world.
Michael Alberg-Seberich is managing partner at Active Philanthropy. Email email@example.com
Seven Pillars of Philanthropy
Laurence Brady Hill House Press £9.99/£2.90 (e-book)