Book Review: Do More Than Give – The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World

By Eileen M. Ellsworth
The Community Foundation for Northern Virginia

What does it take to effect change in the social sector? That is the overarching question of Do More Than Give: The Six Practices of Donors Who Change the World by Leslie R. Crutchfield, John V. Kania, and Mark R. Kramer (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011). Three of the most prominent thought leaders on national trends in philanthropy hold up models of “catalytic” donors who truly move the needle on complex social issues.

Catalytic donors utterly commit to a cause, mobilize an array of relationships and assets to reach goals, and create an impact that is measurable and impressive.

How do such donors accomplish so much? Do More than Give analyzes just that. It provides a playbook for donors who are ready to learn from some truly amazing and ultimately inspiring stories of social impact.

Most donors, whether they are individuals, foundations, or corporations, believe that they are in the business of “giving away money.” They select a charity, give a grant, and in return get a report back from the charity in six months to a year on how the money was spent. This is an important form of community based philanthropy, especially for donors who feel connected to home and the concomitant commitment to help local nonprofits with their work.

But the authors of Do More Than Give hope to inspire action well beyond the current model of philanthropy where the benefit flows in a linear fashion from donor to grantee to ultimate service recipient. In fact, the book isn’t about how to “give away money” at all. Rather, it’s about how to become an active participant in and leader of a collective movement to address social issues.

Step one: “Commit to a Cause:” A donor must first pick a narrow focus for his or her philanthropy. Without focus, there can be no impact. Donors must get clear about what cause to choose. This is an absolute condition precedent to catalytic philanthropy, and not an easy task to accomplish. Committing to one among many compelling community causes is a challenge for any donor. This is especially true for community foundations that are accountable to a broad range of donors with many concerns. It also poses a difficulty for corporate givers that want to support the existing philanthropy of their employees in just one geographic area.

First, pick a cause you know well and that resonates with you on a deep and significant level. That is the internal inquiry: Is it a cause you truly, deeply care about? Then, pick a cause that also appears ripe for change, one that has already been embraced by a broad spectrum of community donors and leaders with a likelihood of success. That is the external inquiry: Does this cause already have momentum in the external environment? Finally, ask yourself “Where do I personally have the most leverage?” The answer to that question will help point the way.

Take a hard look at the facts and use available data to make this important first decision. Once you have committed to a cause, the “six practices” then come into play.

Practice # 1: Advocate for Change: Most donors run from advocacy, not embrace it. There are many rational reasons for this. Advocacy can be risky. You can make enemies that you would rather not make in the process of advocating for a cause. Advocacy is time consuming. It takes communications skills that many donors do not think they have. And it takes focus, practice and (above all) persistence. But Crutchfield and her co-authors make a very compelling case that without advocacy, systemic change rarely happens. It takes a lot more than writing a check to a nonprofit to effect change in the social sector. Advocacy can make the difference.

Practice # 2 – Blend Profit with Purpose: This practice is particularly though not exclusively aimed at the capabilities of corporate donors. Sometimes, the core business practices of a company, as opposed to the philanthropic donations they make, can be the greatest trick in their bag to effect social change. Social entrepreneurship that inures to the benefit of a previously disadvantaged group can end up developing markets and industries that complement a company’s business and add to its bottom line profits.

Practice # 3 – Forge Nonprofit Peer Networks: Nonprofits are a piece of the puzzle in the catalytic philanthropy model. In essence, they are service providers with their finger on the pulse of key community issues. By nature, they compete for resources with other similar (and even disparate) nonprofits. Together, however, they are a force that any donor who hopes to accomplish real, systemic change must engage. Catalytic donors not only convene nonprofits, they actually get them to become mutually accountable to each other and to the larger network. If anything good happens, it happens because of the larger network.

Practice # 4 – Empower the People: Here, the authors encourage every donor to find a way to listen to the people who the donor intends to benefit, that is, to the ultimate service recipients of the nonprofit grantees. To the extent there is a feedback loop on philanthropy, it usually comes from the nonprofit service provider back to the donor by way of an evaluation or a report six months to one year after the grant has been made. But before any donor can truly understand the impact of its philanthropy, a dialogue that includes the ultimate service recipients is absolutely necessary.

Practice # 5 – Lead Adaptively: Catalytic donors must be adaptive leaders who possess certain hallmark capabilities. They must be able to sense opportunities and changes in the dialogue, motivate key players, and avoid driving their own agenda to the detriment of others. They must be able to lead, motivate, negotiate, listen, and most of all adapt to the shifting landscape. The authors believe that examples of adaptive leadership are rare but they do exist, and stories of brilliant adaptive leadership on the part of individual donors are provided throughout the book.

Practice # 6 – Learn in Order to Change: Continuous learning is critical to catalytic philanthropy. Catalytic donors do not focus on classic evaluation tools such as grantee reports on service outputs. Rather, they are more interested in building a system that teaches the donor, their grantees, and the service recipients what is working and what is not working in real time. When this system emerges, catalytic donors begin to get critical feedback, continuously learning and adapting to what they learn, and ultimately inculcating a culture of learning in their organization. If you want to participate in social change, you must continuously learn.

Conclusion: Do More Than Give walks a donor through the stages of donor development, from (1) writing checks supporting many disparate causes, to (2) developing a strategic focus, to (3) becoming a catalyst for true change on a complex social issue. It is a useful and thought provoking work for every kind of donor, in any kind of community. If you are looking for a practical, step by step manual for how to become a more effective donor, this book has a very great deal to offer.

WRAG member Eileen M. Ellsworth has been the president of the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia since 2005. With $33 million in managed assets, the Community Foundation engages donors to help grow philanthropy in the region. She also serves on the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce Board and on the Loudoun County CEO Cabinet.