In Reinventing Philanthropy: A Framework for More Effective Giving, Eric Friedman takes readers through his own personal giving journey as he learns to be more effective in his philanthropy. Friedman advocates for the effective altruism approach while acknowledging the important emotional drivers of giving. He encourages readers to examine how they could give more effectively by harnessing their passion and supporting their efforts with research.

Friedman opens the book with a difficult premise: Two ill children. One child lays in a well-equipped Western hospital fighting cancer while the other struggles with malaria in a hospital without basic supplies. Donors may be more inclined to support the cancer patient because the disease is a familiar one in the West, however, Friedman notes this may not be the best use of funds. Instead, he asks readers to examine the opportunity cost of supporting one sick child in a modern hospital versus saving many lives from a disease that can be prevented and treated at a low cost.

While this data-driven approach has impact, Friedman acknowledges the role of emotions in giving. He proposes that donors strive to be “do-besters” rather than “do-gooders.” While “do-gooders” are driven to give because of emotion or enthusiasm for a cause, “do-besters” marry that same enthusiasm with careful consideration.

While Friedman is sympathetic to donors who give to a cause that hits close to home, he is less understanding of donations to wealthy universities - usually the alma mater of the donor - and other charitable acts informed by the doctrine of “giving back.” He points out that this habit keeps money in wealthy circles instead of going to those places where it could do the most good, such as education causes in under-resourced communities.

Steps Toward Being a “Do-Bester”

Friedman notes that there are many ways to be a “do-bester” but the general framework includes choosing organizations and building giving strategies that will maximize impact. Through case studies, Friedman illustrates the processes of developing a mission, triangulating the focus of your donation, and measuring performance. He compares the priorities of several organizations, including the Copenhagen Consensus Center, GiveWell, the Mulago Foundation, and the Skoll Foundation. Each organization has their own set of priorities and criteria for effective giving, but each is intentional in their efforts to do the most good with their resources. For example, the Copenhagen Consensus Center prioritizes issue areas with the greatest opportunity for impact, while GiveWell focuses on specific organizations with proven track records. Often, these differing criteria produce similar results, and there is overlap in the recommendations these organizations make to donors. Funders can explore these methods to decide which advice to follow, or create their own criteria to create a personalized set of priorities.

While Friedman clearly has great respect for the work of effective altruists, he rejects the notion that the core causes of effective altruism (extreme poverty, preventable diseases, etc.) are the only pathways being a “do-bester.” He encourages every philanthropist to research and draw their own conclusions about the most effective use of their donations. This book provides a roadmap for organizations and donors that want to be their own kind of “do-bester” using the tenets of Effective Altruism.

Follow Friedman through Reinventing Philanthropy to collect the tools and information that can shape your giving and help you be a more effective philanthropist. Clarify your goals and mission, learn how to build and measure a giving strategy, and understand the work that has already been done in the field. At once personal and practical, Reinventing Philanthropy is a must-read for donors striving to be the most effective in their giving.