Posted on January 10, 2012
Shift & Reset: Strategies for Addressing Serious Issues in a Connected Society
(Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley & Sons, 2011)
PND — Shift & Reset: Strategies for Addressing Serious Issues in a Connected Society
By coincidence, the day I started reading Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World, I also attended a presentation by Dr. Jen Shang, who argued that, for women at least, the charitable act brings the giver closer to her "ideal, moral self." Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen's book is a vivid illustration of that precept. Arrillaga-Andreessen wants you to give and volunteer, in part, to improve your sense of personal fulfillment and (perhaps) your standing in the cosmos.
There's a lot going on in Giving 2.0. Arrillaga-Andreessen covers the gamut of ways to give, from volunteering, to "checkbook giving," to family foundations and donor-advised funds, to venture philanthropy. Each chapter combines stories from donors (including those who volunteer time and talent), insights from the author, and questions to ask as you begin to explore that type of giving.
But the book suffers from the very problem it tries to address: there are so many ideas packed between its covers that it's hard to assimilate all of them. As Joon Yun, a venture philanthropist quoted in the book, says, "The information age is a very challenging environment because in many ways it makes information more liquid but not necessarily more efficient-you have to go see it for yourself." Giving 2.0 left me longing for someone to talk to about all the good ideas it contains.
Given the amount of information presented in the book, I suggest that readers wanting a quick guide to philanthropy turn to the end-of-chapter bulleted lists of questions and ideas. These are organized into themes such as "For the Family" and "Innovation Lab – Ideas to Test." The index, too, is thorough, and the four appendices are an added bonus. (The first provides a list of possible topics for a "giving journal," while the last provides a helpful "jargon buster.")
Knowingly or not, Arrillaga-Andreessen has provided an updated gloss on Andrew Carnegie's influential Gospel of Wealth, in which the Gilded Age industrialist-cum-philanthropist opined that "wealth, passing through the hands of the few, can be made a much more potent force for the elevation of our race than if it had been distributed in small sums." At the same time, said Carnegie, "Of every thousand dollars spent in so-called charity today, it is probable that $950 is unwisely spent." And "[i]n bestowing charity, the main consideration should be to help those who will help themselves." A similar sense of noblesse oblige bubbles below the surface of Giving 2.0, and while they aren't necessarily wrong, the reader should be aware of the long history of such ideas and alert to the tacit (and, in Carnegie's nineteenth-century world view, explicit) suggestion that people on the giving side of the charitable equation are somehow superior to those on the receiving end.
Another weakness of the book is Arrillaga-Andreessen's emphasis on the importance of giving to achieve impact. She says, for example, that "with limited financial resources but valuable experience, plenty of time, and boundless enthusiasm, you can make a far bigger impact than you could ever have imagined (p. 166)." But she dodges the question of how one should go about choosing metrics to gauge the impact of one's giving, saying only that it's up to the donor to decide what matters most to him or her.
More troubling, perhaps, is the assumption that impact should be the primary objective of philanthropy. "Tracking what happens to your gifts is essential to being a successful, fulfilled philanthropist (p. 74)," she writes. But no study I'm aware of has examined whether impact-driven philanthropy achieves a donor's goals better than other types of philanthropy, and what data does exist would probably leave a psychologist like Shang unconvinced about the superiority of the impact approach.
For those interested in learning more about the basics of how to give, Giving 2.0 makes for a breezy, accessible starting point. If you can dedicate time and thought into making your philanthropy "mindful," I would recommend checking out the tools provided in the book, including the chapter lists and appendices. As a "gospel of wealth" for the twenty-first century, however, Giving 2.0, while inspiring, should come with a caveat: "Past results do not predict future performance." In other words, there's no guarantee you'll find yourself any closer to your own "ideal, moral self" after reading Arrillaga-Andreessen's guide. For that, you're probably better off, as Joon Yun recommends, just going out and doing it.
Staff Writer, PND