THE THINKERS THAT INSPIRED MY BIGGEST YEAR YET (…AND THEIR BOOKS!)

2022 was a very big year for me and my family with the cornerstone of this being the big move back to Australia after residing in the U.S. for over a decade (and the first time ever living overseas for my wife and kids). In what was a very, very busy period of change, I’m glad I had my writing to continue to ground me in my values, understand the progress (and work to do) of the  broader social sector and most of all a cathartic exercise in ideating what the future of our field could look like. 

This year was a bit different though as I had a unique platform and vantage point of which to expand the three aforementioned markers of my work and that was on the back of the surprising success of my book Future Philanthropy. But rather than that be an exclamation point on my writing, one where I could continue to push it’s themes in a variety of different ways, through different lenses, or just piggyback on some recent reports or trending news topics, I decided to push on and continue to explore what could be in our work.

Much of that exploration came through the work of others in my field, people that I deeply admire, and people that are truly changing the way we look at, understand, use, and ultimately improve the impact of philanthropy and tech and all the ways it intersects broader society.  

As my own personal thank you, I guess, I just wanted to share with you the top six books that have inspired my own work this year, with these works providing valuable insights, new perspectives, and practical applications of their findings  that have helped me grow both personally and professionally. I hope that by sharing these books with you, you too can find inspiration and guidance in your own endeavors (or at least put them in the queue for reading) . 

So without further ado, let’s get started on the list of my top six books that inspired my work the most in 2022.

In Defence of Philanthropy – I speak quite a bit on reclaiming the word philanthropy and for it to be understood, strengthened and be part of the culture of our next generation of leaders because the reality is that ‘philanthropy’ does not always elicit that powerful positive response it used to.

For many Australians, the notion of philanthropy is often linked to wealth and privilege, and therefore they perceive it has little connection to them. We need to realize that this is our sector’s word, and we need to begin changing perceptions of it.

Beth Breeze, who runs the Centre for Philanthropy at the University of Kent provided an excellent reset of the philanthropy conversation and to be honest is one of those must reads for folks in the field. Her book highlights that negative depictions of big donors were often simplistic generalizations that lacked nuance. Yet those criticisms were landing successfully with minimal pushback. If we keep knocking big giving, that is going to make fundraising even harder than it already is. Why would rich people decide to be philanthropic if everyone assumes their gift is a cover for bad behaviour rather than genuine passion for a cause? And how will nonprofits function without their contributions?

The Generosity Crisis – I initially connected with Nathan Chappell to ask him to be a part of my book with the original plan to have three industry leaders write the introduction to each of the three pillars outlined. Nathan was the tech ‘designate’ while he was CEO of the Futurus Group and while the book morphed into something different, I continued to revel in his work which was weaving AI into our work beyond just modeling and visualization. It was no surprise to see him come out with his own book and tackle something which I believe is going to be a critical argument over our work – what is generosity and what impact does it have on our actions in a dislocated society. I’m still in the process of finishing this one off but the argument that radical connection can lead to greater success definitely resonates.

The Tech That Comes Next – Amy Sample Ward is the CEO of NTEN and is a champion of the fact that technology should be accessible and accountable to everyone, especially communities historically and systemically excluded from the digital world. Amy’s work is something I truly am inspired by as we look to create meaningful, inclusive, and compassionate community engagement and educational opportunities for the sector. 

The Tech That Comes Next, a book written in partnership with Afra Bruce, was a great technical primer on equitable technology development and how it can center your work in movement building. Some great takes on demystifying tech especially when it comes to capacity building – Amy definitely opened my eyes around capacity matching as a concept in a book that was complete with many well illustrated examples and reference guides.

The Voltage Effect – I got to spend some time with John List when he was in Canberra this year. John, who is the current Chief Economist of Walmart, The Kenneth C. Griffin Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago was  formerly at the White House and as Chief Economist at Uber and Lyft. John was in town as the closing plenary speaker for Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SEAT) 2022 conference and on the back of his new book The Voltage Effect: How To Make Good Ideas Great And Great Ideas Scale. 

John also looks into the ways people make decisions regarding charity. Charitable giving is an important component of each country’s national economy, yet few organizations understand the best way to promote their cause. Over the years John has conducted multiple field experiments to examine the factors that influence people’s charitable decision-making which make for fascinating reading.

Our work too often rests on hunches and intention and not on a careful examination of data and the science of using science to identify and implement promising ideas – the science of the economics of philanthropy as it were. John’s book talks about scale, but most importantly replication, and that made me look at impact in a myriad of new ways and spawned a new blog post on the funding these efforts which you can find here.

Dignity In A Digital Age – Politicians writing books about policy is my kryptonite. In fact it was the book Citizenville by Gavin Newsom that first had me excited about what tech could do for society. 

Ro Khanna, as the Congressman for Silicon Valley is very much at the forefront of how we build laws and regulations around an industry that the government is often playing catch up with. It’s a timely book that explores the role of technology in shaping our society and our relationships with one another. With technology continuing to advance and become more deeply integrated into our lives, it is crucial that we do not lose sight of the inherent value and worth of each individual. He writes about the dangers of allowing technology to dehumanize us, and the importance of finding ways to use it in a way that uplifts and empowers individuals.

In addition to addressing these broader philosophical issues, the book also offers practical recommendations for how we can use technology to promote social good and advance justice. Khanna discusses ideas such as expanding internet access to underserved communities and using data to improve decision-making in government and business.

Future Philanthropy – I won’t write much about this one, but I still refer to my own book as a north star for my work. I was inspired by others to write it but I am inspired by what I discovered during the process. Fundraise for Australia is an example of how I’m trying to help bring much of my work to life and help bring new talent to the field. Oh, and I still keep reading Beth Kanter’s afterword to help me stay grounded in the ‘why’. Beth also had a new book this year too – The Smart Nonprofit.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what might hit our shelves for 2023 and for those thinking about writing something more substantive – do it! Our sector needs more material of which to inspire people to see themselves giving more or joining nonprofits to drive more solutions in our communities.

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