Lessons in giving

05 April 2018

Philanthropy is a mixture of heart, head and hands; love, logic and let’s get on with it! The books that follow often emphasise one or other of these approaches as the best way to go about changing the world. Inspiration and innovation keep philanthropy alive and kicking, and for that we recommend the three enlightening Ted Talks.

The shed that fed book

1. The Shed That Fed A Million Children, Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow,

William Collins, £12.99 Hardcover, May 2015 (Proceeds to Mary’s Meals)

This account of hands-on philanthropy has and will light fires. It is the story of one African teen’s dream “to have enough food and to go to school one day” made reality for a million of the world’s poorest children every day thanks to one man, a shed and a burning conviction that every child deserves a chance to thrive. That man is the book’s unassuming author, MacFarlane-Barrow. His generous story-telling charts the viral spread of Mary’s Meals, the project he masterminds from a shed in Scotland, supported by wife, family and friends.

The Essence of Strategic Giving book

2. The Essence of Strategic Giving: A Practical Guide for Donors and Fundraisers, Peter Frumkin, University of Chicago Press, £17.93 Paperback, Sept 2010

Four years of reflection and conversation after the 2006 publication of his weighty tome Strategic Giving: The Art and Science of Philanthropy led noted academic Frumkin to boil the book down and re-serve it as a practical guide. At its centre is a five-point philanthropic prism through which Frumkin refracts the complexities of large-scale giving to light the way to “reflective and well-conceived philanthropy”.

Doing Good Better book

3. Doing Good Better: Effective Altruism and a Radical New Way to Make a Difference, William MacAskill, Avery Publishing Group, £8.99 Paperback, July 2015

Doing Good Better introduces the world of “Effective Altruism”, a twenty-first-century movement gathering pace among a younger generation. Conceived by Australian moral philosopher Professor Peter Singer and developed by Oxford philosopher Toby Ord, the concept is taken to new levels by MacAskill and spread across the globe. Effective Altruism encourages spending, investing, volunteering, working and giving with the singular aim to do the most good for the most people. There is no room for emotion in this approach: hard-headed, data-dictated giving is the only option when lives are at stake.

4. Finance and the Good Society, Robert J Shiller, Princeton University Press, £13.46 Paperback, June 2013

The reputation of bankers and finance is at a very low ebb – despite research showing it to be the professional sector that gives the most money and resources philanthropically. In writing his book, Shiller, a Nobel prize-winning economist and Yale professor, aims to take “financial capitalism” – that which drives rather than serves capitalism – in a new direction, “expanding, correcting and realigning” it.

He devotes the first half of the book to the roles and responsibilities of financiers, from investment bankers and lawyers to regulators and educators and, indeed, philanthropists. Shiller considers how such individuals can be more effective in building the “good society”. The second part of the book looks at the system, its failings and how it will be improved for the benefit of the masses, as we have already seen with social-impact bonds and micro-loans.

5. Rambam’s Ladder: A Meditation on Generosity and Why It Is Necessary to Give, Julie Salamon, Workman Publishing Company, £14.60 Hardcover, September 2003

This reinterpretation of the writings of the twelfth-century physician and scholar Maimonides, known as Rambam to his followers, is a modern meditation on the giving impulse. Best-selling author and New York Times culture writer Salamon adopts a journalistic style in this study of Rambam’s Ladder, a hierarchy of giving that begins with gifting begrudgingly and peaks where a gift enables the recipient to become self-sufficient.

Charity and Philanthropy for Dummies book

6. Charity and Philanthropy for Dummies, Karl T Muth, Michael T.S. Lindenmayer and John Kluge, John Wiley and Sons, £16.99 Paperback, March 2014

In attempting to encompass the whole world of philanthropy and help people onto the starting ramp of giving, this book may be too basic, even patronising, for those already seriously invested in social change. But its bite-sized presentation, practical activities, plain language, suggestions for how to get involved and inclusion of hundreds of examples of good society organisations makes for a good philanthropy primer for students and those who really are new to philanthropy.

Public Good By Private Means book

7. Public Good By Private Means: How Philanthropy Shapes Britain, Rhodri Davies, Alliance Publishing Trust, £18 Paperback, February 2016

Davies looks at the difficult relationship between philanthropy and state and addresses all the big, difficult questions about individuals doing public good today. And he does so admirably. Davies, who heads the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF) think-tank on philanthropy, says that one of his aims in writing the book was to give philanthropists and those working with them ”a renewed sense of their place in a rich tradition dating back hundreds of years”. He succeeds in his aim, breathing life into history with his illuminating profiles of our philanthropic forebears, complete with their foibles and failings.

8. Ted Talk: Bill And Melinda Gates, Why Giving Away Our Wealth Has Been The Most Inspiring Thing We Have Ever Done, Filmed March 2014

This fascinating peak into the lives of the wealthiest couple in the world reveals them as committed and expert philanthropists, having learned from failure (five years and $60 million “wasted” in one vaccination programme) and success, such as the malaria programme. Their work in education in the United States and children’s health across the globe through the foundation is a truly collaborative affair, relying on Melinda’s pragmatism and concern that projects will work in the field, and Bill’s geeky “will it make a difference?” approach.

9. Ted Talk: Dame Stephanie Shirley, Why Ambitious Women Have Flat Heads, Filmed March 2015

Vibrant Dame Stephanie Shirley is in her eighties and still fizzing with passion for starting new things. Back in the 1960s, she was one of the first people to start a social business by employing women homeworkers in her IT company; one of the first to sell software and one of the first to offer a co-ownership model, eventually making seventy colleagues millionaires.

When she came to giving away “serious money”, she pioneered schools, centres and now think-tanks in search of more answers about autism, with which her son Giles lived until his premature and unexpected death. Funny, feisty and full of wisdom.

10. Ted Talk: Dan Pallotta, The Way We Think About Charity is Dead Wrong, Filmed March 2013

Activist and fundraiser Pallotta puts “the overhead question” to bed in this impassioned plea to end the discrimination between how profits and non-profits are expected to behave. The size of the fundraising, marketing or salary bill does not matter if it makes the charity more effective at what it does, Pallotta argues – convincingly and with lots of figures.


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