Quick review: Memoire-cum-manual on attaining ‘performance philanthropy’
Suitable for: Wealthy philanthropists wanting to create social change in the developing world
Having a loaded gun at your head while being ‘frog-marched’ through the wilds of West Africa’s political tinderbox Liberia in the dead of night by a gang of so-called soldiers is a true test of one’s cool.
Fortunately for philanthropists everywhere, Doug Balfour, CEO of Philadelphia-based philanthropy advisory firm Geneva Global, passed that test and survived to tell the tale and many more in his new book Doing Good Great.
This memoire-cum-manual offers a neat ‘eight-pillar’ approach to ‘performance philanthropy’ or “doing good better” illustrated with gritty tales from the real world of international development. It insists the best way to bring about real social change is using hard-headed, business-based practices such as ‘Investment Thinking’, ‘Successful Failing’ and ‘Active Collaborating’.
The book is a distillation of a quarter of a century of Balfour’s experience on the ground leading international philanthropy projects across Africa, Asia and South America fighting disease, exploitation, hunger and poverty. Written in frictionless English, Balfour has managed quite a feat in writing a readable ‘how to’ publication that is insightful rather than preachy.
As a natural born manager with an MBA, a deep Christian faith and a conviction that he, and others, could do more, his is an authentic voice - this is philanthropy straight from the horse’s mouth.
The book is specifically for the wealthy individual, says Balfour. “The person in my mind was a self-made entrepreneur who wanted to spend their money well whilst they were living. They may have some sort of global experience and want to do something about the marginalising of poor communities around the world and want to figure out ‘How do I do that really well?’
“Possibly, they’ve given some money to something and it hasn’t worked out particularly well and they have realised how complicated it is. Or they’ve given a big cheque to a big international NGO and then felt like they got the big ‘thank-you’ but they didn’t really feel engaged.”
Balfour is describing people like the founders of Geneva Global, New-Zealand born, self-made billionaire brothers Christopher and Richard Chandler. When they decided to direct some of their ample assets to challenges around the world they went in search of sound investment advice, as they had done in their business dealings. They were surprised to find none existed. Geneva Global was established to fill that void for the Chandlers, and has gradually extended to support other funders bent on the quest to maximise efficiency and effect.
The fact that this no-frills publication is a pretty extensive advert for the Geneva Global way and its work to date – reportedly touching 138 million lives - should not detract from its valid insights.
Will it turn readers into high performing philanthropists? Not immediately or magically. Balfour is pretty clear philanthropists must journey about seven years, on a road from ‘this is charity and therefore easy’, via ‘this is much harder than it looks’ to ‘we need some advice and support’ and on to being able to ask the right questions and hold others to account and ultimately to Nirvana; performance philanthropy.
What the book will do Balfour hopes is help readers “get a much better experience of being generous and be more effective”.
Why does Balfour care? “Because in 25 years I’ve seen so many mediocre projects. All of which had the potential for doing so much. Yet, because someone hasn’t done very much thinking; because someone has played it safe, because someone is working through the wrong organisation or not getting down to the community level and is potentially doing the wrong thing – it is mediocre. All of that money that could’ve been spent and achieved so much, didn’t. Just like in business or music and many other disciplines of life, there’s a great way of doing things and there’s an okay way of doing things. So, that’s where we got the title, ‘Doing Good Great’.”
What Balfour doesn’t want the book to do is turn people off when they realise how hard it is to give money well.
Balfour says: “The most important thing is to do something; get started. But recognise then that you’re on a learning cycle just like you are with every aspect of life. You actually have to try some things, learn from them, find some experts and get some help. It’s not like anybody is a born philanthropist.”
Having said that, Balfour is impressed by the new generation of young people involved in social change.
“I feel millennials come with a much bigger toolset to be philanthropists because of the ethos in which they have been raised over the last decade or so. I think they take to it much, much quicker. And they’re not coming at it from the place baby boomers were, which was chequebook philanthropy - ‘let me put my name on a hospital’ and tick the box. Millennials want their business to partly be their philanthropy and they don’t see those two things as completely separate. They see it as one integrated, holistic world. And my final chapter, ‘Forward Looking’, is all about using all the levers that you have: working at local, national and global levels, to do good great.”
Doing Good Great, by Doug Balfour, published by Geneva Global 2015. ISBN: 978-0-9863771-0-5
For more information visit: http://www.doinggoodgreat.com