Book List: Giving

Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World by Bill Clinton

Just finished reading Ex-President Bill Clinton’s latest book, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World. I appreciated that he attempted to shed light on the topic of everyday philanthropy, and it comes in a very timely manner. With billionaire Bill Gates shifting his focus full-time in the social sector and new President Barack Obama renewing the meaning of public service for America, the seeds of service have been planted. Many Americans are starting to wonder how they too can get involved in making the world a better place, and Clinton’s book provides an inspirational “how-to.”

However, for people who are already involved in the social sector, the book reads more like a refresher of sorts. I found myself several times throughout the book thinking, “Oh, I’ve heard of this organization,” or “I’ve already read a lot about this cause.” Additionally, the book was almost too jam-packed with information. It read more like a series of blog posts with absolutely no transitions.

While I appreciate everything that the Clinton Global Foundation is doing and everything that all of the highlighted organizations are doing to eradicate some of the world’s most pressing social problems, the book also sounded more like Bill bragging about his foundation’s work and the work of his best buddies’s organizations.

I suppose that’s fine, but for those of you really looking to read a substantive book about social change causes and organizations, this is not that book. The most he devoted to an organization/cause is probably about 3-5 pages, and the least was one paragraph.

Bottomline: It still is an inspirational read especially for the “beginners” to the social sector and those who are interested in learning about how to give (time, money, talent, etc.). Those who are more seasoned in the social sector may find this book too fluffy, flat, and full of name-dropping.

Hit the jump for some excerpts:

Page 4

   The modern world, for all its blessings, is unequal, unstable, and unsustainable. And so the great mission of the early twenty-first century is to move our neighborhoods, our nation, and the world toward integrated communities of shared opportunities, shared responsibilities, and a shared sense of genuine belonging, based on the essence of every successful community: that our common humanity is more important than our interesting differences.

Page 211

   So much of modern culture is characterized by stories of self-indulgence and self-destruction. So much of modern politics is focused not on honest differences of policy but on personal attacks. So much of modern media is dominated by people who earn fortunes by demeaning others, defining them by their worst moments, exploiting their agonies. Who’s happier? The uniters or dividers? The builders or the breakers? The givers or the takers?

I think you know the answer. There’s a whole world out there that needs you, down the street or across the ocean. Give.

Page 114

…if the concept of “Passing the Gift” were to be integrated into other giving programs wherever possible, it would dramatically increase the impact of good works at almost no cost. What if all the givers of money, time and skills required the recipients of their gifts to do something, however modest, for others in similar situations? In a sense, that’s what happens when those who benefit from NGO leadership-training programs will pass along the skills they’ve learned.

Page 131

   The most comprehensive American model for citizen service I’ve come across also centers on African Americans, but can be adopted by others. In February 2006, Tavis Smiley, the prominent African-American radio and television journalist, published The Covenant with Black America, a remarkable book analyzing the continuing racial disparities in American life and providing a plan of action for dealing with them in the form of ten “covenants.” Each chapter of the book calls on its readers to make a covenant to do something about a particular problem: health care; education; stable neighborhoods; voting rights; rural development; access to jobs and capital; environmental justice; and the racial digital divide. Each chapter opens with a short introductory essay by an expert, followed by a comprehensive list of salient facts and by specific examples of “what the community can do,” then “what every individual can do now,” “what works now,” and “what every leader and elected official can do.”

The Covenant touched a nerve with African Americans and others concerned about the future of black America… All over America, churches, community organizations, civic groups, elected officials, and concerned citizens gathered to dicuss how they could become advocates for and agents of change.

Page 206

If we just all gave according to our ability, the positive impact would be staggering… In America, many of us are beseiged by more requests for help than we can grant. All of us have to decide among competing claims on our time and money. Do we concentrate our resources on one project or spread them around? That is a choice that only you can make. But first you have to decide whether, and how much, to give.

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