Best Books on Philanthropy

As the U.S. celebrates National Service Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day it is fitting to remember the words of the Nobel Prize winning civil rights leader who continues to inspire people with his deep insight and eloquence: “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” The following books pay tribute to the individuals who have realized that they cannot change the entire world, but they can start changing the life of one person, one family, one community — by simply rolling up their sleeves and getting to work, and inspiring others to do the same.

Everyday Heroes: 50 Americans Changing the World the World One Nonprofit at a Time by Katrina Fried and Paul Mobley, Welcome Books (2012)
Writer Katrina Fried teamed up with photographer Paul Mobley to present 50 short biographies of Americans who have used their talents, skills, and passions to create organizations to tackle poverty, education, equal rights, medical care, and innovative, sustainable programs to help the disadvantaged. Nick Aster, founder and publisher of TriplePundit.com summarizes the book best: “There is no shortage of problems in the world. The good news is that each problem represents a potential opportunity for an enterprising individual with a good idea and the drive to rally others in a quest for solutions.  This book is filed with solutions to more problems than you can shake a stick at.  It will not only leave you with deep respect for the individuals profiled but will give you path toward getting more involved with your own community, and perhaps spark new solutions to issues you care about.” The book is thought-provoking and best of all — inspirational.

Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World by Laura Arillaga-Andreessen, Jossey-Bass (2011)
Arillaga-Andreesen is a lecturer in Strategic Philanthropy at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and founder of several notable philanthropic organizations. Her book is a guide to philanthropy in the modern age, where thanks to the internet (made friendlier by the efforts of her husband, Marc Andreessen), there are thousands of new options for giving (a little or a lot), volunteering, building awareness around issues, and harnessing social media in causes that interest you. In short, it is a best-practices approach to strategic giving for anyone who has an interest in making an impact in their community.

One Good Deed: 365 Days of Trying to Be Just a Little Bit Better by Erin McHugh, Abrams (2012)
Inspired to live a better life, McHugh’s book chronicles her journey one day, one deed, at a time, proving that charity begins with simple acts of kindness in everyday life. Through her warmth and wit, McHugh presents an alternative way to make an impact without having to create a large nonprofit organization or donate thousands of dollars. To paraphrase the well known idiom, charity begins at and near home.

In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories, and Prayers by Mother Teresa, New World Library (2010)
In the world of philanthropy, Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, has no equal. She is the personification of charity in its purest sense. Her tireless, selfless devotion to the poor and the dying, especially in the streets of Calcutta, inspired individuals throughout the world. It is no wonder that this amazing human being was recognized with the loftiest humanitarian awards — the Nobel Peace Prize, the United Nations Albert Schweitzer Prize, and the United States Medal of Freedom. When you read her words — so full of love, spirituality, and wisdom — you are humbled by her profound goodness, kindness, and generosity. In a world so full of indifference, intolerance and hatred, Mother Teresa’s words serve as a beacon of love, hope and generosity; and her life, an ideal to be devoutly wished.

Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde, Simon Schuster (2010)
Unlike the other books in the list, this is a fictional novel; however it builds on the same theme: that one individual has the power to  make an impact.  Hyde tells a moving story about Tevor, a 12-year-old student, who takes his social study homework assignment very seriously and creates a goodwill chain: he helps three people and tells them that they must “pay it forward” by helping three others. Although the novel does promote a certain level of optimism, it does so in the context of the harshness of reality, recognizing that although humanity is flawed, it is capable of redemption and generosity.


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