The College Donor Digest

From the Bookshelf: Giving Done Right

February 14, 2020 | Rebecca Richards

Giving Done Right: Effective Philanthropy and Making Every Dollar Count by Phil Buchanan was published last year as a practical guide to philanthropy. Although the primary audience of the book is high-net-worth individuals or foundations, Mr. Buchanan connects his advice to smaller-level donors. Pushing back against the idea that philanthropy should be approached as a business, Mr. Buchanan argues that giving is very distinct from earning. Success metrics, strategy, and the skills needed for effective philanthropy are significantly different than those required in business.

While written before the Sackler controversies garnered public attention, Mr. Buchanan acknowledges the growing cultural criticisms of philanthropy. A significant part of the book shows how much good philanthropy has accomplished in improving quality of life through initiatives in health, education, and public parks. Although he champions all of the ways that the philanthropic sector benefits society, he does not shy away from exploring why philanthropic endeavors fail. He attributes much of this failure to misunderstanding the nature of philanthropy and to how funders engage with nonprofits or other recipients of their gifts. When funders require grantees to implement business-based strategies in a field that operates significantly differently than a business, failure is imminent, if not inevitable.

Because of the magnitude of the issues at stake, it can take years to know whether a specific philanthropic approach is effective. The author writes, “Givers are often seeking to address the most entrenched problems—the very ones that have defied market or government solutions.” Poverty, inadequate education, and medical issues have defied solutions in other sectors. Philanthropy uniquely allows for collaboration and innovation in solving social issues. If philanthropy is engaged in as its own discipline, Mr. Buchanan is optimistic that giving done right will change society for the better.

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