7 Books About Philanthropy That Are Worth Reading

7 Books About Philanthropy That Are Worth Reading


Leaders in the nonprofit sector, like those in other fields, excel as they proactively continue their education and open their minds to new ways of thinking and problem solving. One of the easiest way to invest in an ongoing learning process is by reading books, especially those whose themes pertain to a certain field, such as philanthropy.

By reading, leaders of socially driven organizations can learn at their own pace. Engaging with various texts can often spark reminders of important lessons learned. Conversely, it can create the opportunity to challenge opinions by taking an alternate perspective. Becoming familiar with recent and important publications also allows leaders to better relate to others and establish a common ground of ideas.

Books also have the ability to expand readers’ vocabulary and bolster their people skills, all while reducing stress levels. With an awareness of the benefits offered by books, the leaders of nonprofits and other similar organizations can equip themselves for the demands of the position that can range from developing new programs to motivating communities to action. Here is a selection of books related to philanthropy, charity, and nonprofit operations.

1. Strangers Drowning: Grappling With Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Overpowering Urge to Help – Larissa MacFarquhar

In Strangers Drowning, Larissa MacFarquhar, a journalist with the New Yorker, presents a series of stories and profiles that offer readers insight into the lives and minds of the extremely generous. She examines the common characteristics that such individuals necessarily possess in order to be conscious of others seemingly at all times and in all places. Along with these traits, she outlines the personal costs willingly paid by these rare examples of ethical living who surround us.

2. Geek Heresy: Rescuing Social Change from the Cult of Technology – Kentaro Toyama

University of Michigan School of Information W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor Kentaro Toyama leverages his knowledge of Geek Heresy to address the intersection of social initiatives and technology. In the book, he offers data that he and his colleagues at Microsoft assembled while experimenting with technology-based solutions for poverty in India. Toyama explains that while technology can amplify our efforts, the real source of social change is human wisdom.

3. No Such Thing as a Free Gift: the Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy – Linsey McGoey

Through the lens of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, sociologist Linsey McGoey explores the impact of the growing nonprofit sector in the United States, both nationally and internationally. She observes the ways in which foundations—if mishandled—can defeat their purpose. That is, they can add to the problem rather than solve it. She calls for greater levels of responsibility to be placed and enforced among the heads of large-scale foundations.

4. The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools – Dale Russakoff

In The Prize, journalist Dale Russakoff delivers an in-depth account of the $100 million pledge made by Mark Zuckerberg to the educational system in Newark, New Jersey. She details how the money actually affected the school system and uses the narrative to provide an example of big philanthropy and the unseen variables that often accompany it. Russakoff contributes to the important conversation of how positive and sustainable change can impact the education of children in America.

5. Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference – William MacAskill

A former Oxford University researcher, William MacAskill co-developed the concept of effective altruism, and with his book, Doing Good Better, he shows readers how they can do just that. The book’s main contention is that people fail to maximize their efforts to make the world a better place by relying on emotion over facts. Doing Good Better offers a template for data-driven altruism in practical and easy-to-understand language.

6. The Reproach of Hunger: Food, Justice, and Money in the Twenty-First Century – David Rieff

David Rieff echoes many of the same sentiments as Kentaro Toyama by weighing the arguments for and against science and technology as a solution to ending poverty and hunger. He also leverages his extensive background in humanitarian studies and reporting to bring new topics to the conversation, such as the role and impact of Syngenta, Monsanto, and other agricultural enterprises. Overall, the book seeks to answer if and how the world can cooperatively support its population by 2050.

7. Mindware: Tools for Smart Thinking – Richard Nisbett

University of Michigan professor Richard Nisbett discusses how cognitive science and philosophy can help shape our strategies for problem solving. He draws on his experience with cost-benefit analysis, statistical regression, and other related concepts to inform this text. While the primary focus of the book is on arriving at solutions through thought, the author provides specific suggestions for nonprofit leaders about how to secure financial support from donors and other sources.


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