Given how broad and complex philanthropy is, I explicitly did not choose a list of books focused exclusively on philanthropy. Philanthropy is inherently personal, rooted in a donor’s desire to make a difference in society. Yet in order to achieve results, donors have to collaborate effectively—with individuals and with organizations. This means that in philanthropy, as in business, execution is at least as important as strategy, and management excellence, as evidenced by effective decision making, takes on extra importance. Not surprisingly, therefore, my list of the best books for philanthropists leans in the direction of management insight.
The Donor’s Essential Reading List
Give Smart: Philanthropy That Gets Results (Thomas J. Tierney and Joel L. Fleishman, Public Affairs, 2011): Based on what we’re hearing back from readers, I believe Give Smart belongs at the top of this list. We structured Give Smart around a set of six questions that we feel all donors must ask in order to get results, questions like “What are my values and beliefs” and “What is ‘success’ and how can it be achieved?” The result is a practical guide replete with real-life stories of how others have answered these questions for themselves.
Wealth in Families (Charles W. Collier, Harvard, 2006): Because philanthropy is inherently personal, this book is a good starting point to help address questions of concern to families of wealth. In particular, the book can help donors think through ways to share family values through philanthropy.
Leap of Reason (Mario Morino, Venture Philanthropy Partners, 2011): Morino’s book offers practical advice on one of the most difficult challenges facing donors and nonprofit leaders – measuring success. From his essay “We’re Lost But Making Good Time” on the challenges of truly measuring results in the social sector to his “Compendium of Top Readings” and a number of new essays from others, Leap of Reason is a concise guide to help donors get and stay focused on the results they seek.
Good to Great and the Social Sectors: A Monograph to Accompany Good to Great (Jim Collins, Harper Collins, 2005): Collins’ monograph offers strong counsel to those seeking results with their giving. Chief among his recommendations is the importance of “who is on the bus,” a memorable phrase that sums up the importance of leadership and teams in driving organizational improvement.
The Essential Drucker (Peter F. Drucker, Harper Paperbacks, 2008): Drucker is widely known in the for-profit sector as a management guru. However, he was the original thought leader in the social sector as well. Given how important strong execution is to driving social change, my list wouldn’t be complete without Drucker’s wisdom.
Thomas J. Tierney is the co-founder and chairman of The Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit consulting firm serving the nonprofit sector and its donors. Prior to founding Bridgespan, Mr. Tierney served as managing partner worldwide of Bain & Company from June 1992 to January 2000. Mr. Tierney is a co-author, with Joel L. Fleishman, of Give Smart: Philanthropy That Gets Results (Public Affairs, 2011).