STRATEGIC GIVING: The Art and Science of Philanthropy

By Eisenberg, Pablo | Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

STRATEGIC GIVING: The Art and Science of Philanthropy


Eisenberg, Pablo, Stanford Social Innovation Review


STRATEGIC GIVING: The Art and Science of Philanthropy Peter Frumkin 448 pages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006)

Reviewed by Pablo Eisenberg

Peter Frumkin, professor at the University of Texas at Austin's Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, has written an important and provocative book that will be read and debated for years to come. Strategic Giving is both a comprehensive, critical analysis of modern philanthropy (particularly foundations) and a useful guide for wealthy donors who want to distribute their money to meet public needs as effectively as possible. Frumkin has created a thoughtful theoretical framework for understanding the giving process.

The author discusses many of the current problems and tensions surrounding philanthropy, but he is not value-free in his assessments of philanthropic performance and developments among foundations. His evaluation is one of the book's strengths, for it will provoke lively discussions and arguments - dialogue that should prove useful in a field noted for its intellectual torpor.

Several key themes reappear throughout the book, including Frumkin's contention that the values, passion, and energy of donors are critical in maintaining the pluralism and soul of philanthropy, an element that the author believes has been severely neglected in recent years. He claims that unless the vision and intent of donors receive greater attention, foundations are likely to become less animated, more bureaucratic, and less effective. Donor satisfaction, Frumkin asserts, is as important to philanthropy as the community and public benefits it produces. Though the author argues strongly for this proposition, it remains highly debatable.

Although many donors like Bill and Melinda Gates have infused their institutions with the vision and energy Frumkin touts, there are many who have been unimaginative and lackluster. And there have been numerous foundation professionals - Alan Pifer, William Bondurant, Kirke Wilson, and Michael Joyce come to mind - who possessed the vision and skills to steer their institutions to great accomplishments. Values, energy, and imagination are not confined to donors. In fact, one could make the argument - as does Susan A. Ostrander, professor of sociology at Tufts University - that the growth of donor initiatives and control is actually eroding the independence and effectiveness of nonprofit organizations.

Another theme, which follows from the first, is that foundations are being taken over by professionals, thereby undermining the influence of donors and trustees and robbing the institutions of their vision, flexibility, and innovative spark. Frumkin labels it "creeping professionalism." Professionals may have contributed to foundation sclerosis and bureaucracy, but it is also true that the enormous growth of foundation assets over the past 20 years has made professionalization inevitable, a point Frumkin downplays. Instead of carping about this development, he might have focused more productively on the quality and skills of the professionals who staff our foundations, especially the CEOs of midand large-sized institutions. The problems Frumkin outlines can be found among these executives, rather than in professionalism itself.

The first three chapters of the book focus on several of the major problems and challenges of philanthropy, among them effectiveness, accountability, and legitimacy. The author explores the relationship between government and philanthropy, the dimensions of international funding, the mechanics of giving, the role of trustees, the relationship between donors and donees, and the nature and limitations of evaluation as a tool to assess effectiveness. Throughout his discussion, Frumkin weaves the purposes and history of philanthropy. It is a compact and informative analysis for both donors and nonprofits. …

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