Book Review: Every Gift Matters

I have a great interest in philanthropy. Through my publishing company, I do a lot of cause-based marketing; from a charity cookbook that we put together to an annual writing competition to benefit different charities each year. I’m not donating tens of thousands of dollars a year, but I do try to make sure that what I am donating is getting where it needs to get and doing what it needs to do. Because of this, I was very interested in reading Every Gift Matters: How Your Passion Can Change the World.

Every Gift Matters by Carrie Morgridge is a well-written, thoughtful, but ultimately low-information book for the average person interested in doing more in their community. The fundamental problem with the book is that, despite Morgridge’s attempts to present the concepts in a blanket of “everyman” can-do, the work is really written for affluent donors who have the time and resources to engage in significant philanthropy. For those interested in setting up trust funds or donating thousands of dollars to causes they care about, the book provides a nice guide of pitfalls and advice. But most of the book will mean little to less affluent donors.

Advice like going on site visits and studying financials all makes perfect sense if you are establishing a trust fund or engaged in largescale philanthropic efforts. But it seems terribly impractical for the person writing a $20 check to the local food bank. There is a lot of emphasis placed on getting to know the leaders of charitable organizations personally before investing in them, which makes perfect sense if you are about to write a check for $250,000 but not so much for people writing checks for $50. While certainly all donors should learn more about a charity before donating, I’m not sure the advice on scheduling dozens of meetings with local leaders is actually practical for the majority of average donors.

Morgridge also includes some anecdotes about “average” people doing extraordinary things, but even these narratives are rose-tinted and don’t really provide any insight on HOW to get things going. For example, she tells the story of Kylan, a young boy who became pen pals with a child in Uganda that his parents sponsored through WorldVision. In Morgridge’s telling of the story, Kylan, at five, decided on his own to try and raise money to help others in Uganda; first with a lemonade stand, and then by collecting scrap metal. It is a sweet story of how an average kid took the initiative and changed lives.

But the version of events in the book is disingenuous. A quick Google search was enough to understand that it was actually the boy’s parents that “encouraged” him to do these things and eventually establish Metal Mission, a charity that collects scrap metal to raise money to help families in Uganda. This doesn’t take away from the wonderful work Metal Mission does, nor does it diminish Kylan’s efforts at such a young age. But Morgridge’s example of how anyone can change the world falls flat when the example is actually about affluent parents with time and resources to spare encouraging their son to follow in their footsteps.

I had hoped that Every Gift Matters would provide me with some practical insight. But there is little in the book that has any bearing on what is within my capabilities to do based on the level of donations I can do. If I hit the lottery and was looking to establish a philanthropic organization to maximize my donations, I would call Morgridge personally to pick her brain (she is Vice President of the Morgridge Family Foundation and does wonderful work with charities like I have enormous respect for the work she does, but unfortunately Every Gift Matters doesn’t live up to the stated premise of demonstrating how small gifts can make a difference.

Disclosure: I was given a comp copy of this book for review.

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