Live Well, Do Good

Review of Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World

November 28, 2012 - David McConkey

Former president Bill Clinton has given us a wonderful resource in the book Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World. It is clearly and colorfully written, filled with inspiring examples, practical suggestions, and insights from his years as both a politician and philanthropist.

The book is brimming with ideas and examples of charities in action from around the world. He introduces us to a host of characters he has met, from the most famous and wealthy to the most humble and obscure.
Philanthropy is very much in the news. Clinton himself, through his own foundation, has done much to raise its profile. As have the mega donations of multi-billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet. 

Clinton is writing with an important message. There are many needs – both local and global – that can use help. And he makes the same point that Lawrence Scanlan makes in his book A Year of Living Generously: those billions being donated do not absolve the need for ordinary citizens to also lend a hand. (Scanlan reminds us that the total value of volunteer labor given by us ordinary folks can total an even larger value than the billions donated by the super wealthy.)

Clinton makes three great points about the importance of charitable citizen activism today:

1.  For the first time in history, a majority of the world’s people are living under elected governments. So there are increased opportunities for involvement in civil society. And even authoritarian governments are now more sensitive to public opinion, inviting even more public participation.

2.  Globalization and new technologies have created vast new fortunes and some of those millionaires and billionaires have become prominent philanthropists.

3.  The Internet is offering even more opportunities for citizen action and for masses of small donors to have a huge impact.

Again and again, Bill Clinton returns to his central theme. You don’t need to be (or have the connections of) a former president or a billionaire to play a part. “Each of us has the ability to do something.” 

Clinton provides a very useful listing of different ways to give and different kinds of efforts to give to. These descriptions in turn form many of the chapters of the book.

They are:

Giving Money
Perhaps the most obvious and the first thing we think about.

Giving Time
Probably the second thing to come to mind: volunteering.

Giving Things
Again, something familiar, but still important: giving away some used and surplus items.

Giving Skills
A variation of volunteering, in that you transfer the knowledge of a skill you have to someone else.

Gifts of Reconciliation and New Beginnings
An aspect of charitable work, focusing on healing divides among people and also offering individuals a fresh start. “Since the end of the Cold War, most of the world’s political violence within and between nations has involved people of different religions, ethnic, and tribal groups,” Clinton notes. In addition to the needs in this area, there are others in need of new beginnings, such as former prisoners in every community. 

Gifts That Keep on Giving
Here, Clinton focuses on the Heifer International organization, which provides animals to poor farmers. This program involves the farmers sharing the first offspring of their animals with someone else, thus “passing on the gift.” Typical of Clinton’s interesting storytelling is that the “animals” provided range from earthworms to elephants! He challenges those in service work to incorporate whenever possible the notion of passing on the gift.

Model Gifts
Clinton on this concept: “One thing that makes programs as diverse as Heifer International, the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India, and New York’s Chess-in-the-Schools so appealing to givers is that they’re repeatable models that virtually always work.”

Giving to Good Ideas
Again, Clinton sumps it up: “The world is full of people with innovative ideas who are willing to give their all in implementing them but don’t have money to get started. These social entrepreneurs can change the lives of millions of people for the better if only they are helped to follow through on their ideas.”

Organizing Markets for the Public Good
Here is a place for doing good as a consumer, like buying energy-conserving or fair trade products.

Nonprofit Markets Can Be Organized Too
A real success story in this area has been the Clinton Foundation’s work in negotiating lower prices for AIDS drugs so that these medicines could become more widely available in developing countries.

“The modern world, for all its blessings, is unequal, unstable, and unsustainable,”  Clinton concludes. “And so the great mission of the early 21st century is to move our neighborhoods, our nation, and the world towards integrated communities of shared opportunities, shared responsibilities, and a shred sense of genuine belonging, based on the essence of every successful community: that our common humanity is more important than our interesting differences.”

Inspired by Clinton’s book, and from other sources, here are seven more specific suggestions:

1.  Develop a holistic view of your giving and being an active citizen. You are involved in your local community and our world as, for example, a parent or grandparent, employee / entrepreneur, consumer, organization member, volunteer, donor, and voter.

2.  Look at contributing to more than just one kind of charity, and in more than one way. Clinton provides a great range of possibilities for both considerations.

3.  Consider a goal of giving a certain percentage of your income. If you are already giving much, good for you. If you are giving little, consider giving more.

4.  Recognize the importance of being a member of organizations. Memberships can increase an organization’s clout, can be informative, and can open up doors for other involvement

5.  Support, where possible, the sector of society known as the social economy (non-profit organizations as well as credit unions and co-operatives).

6.  Take advantage of income tax credits.

7.  Don’t become overwhelmed by all the needs out there, or all the charities that are desperate for support. Decide to give what you would like; then feel good about it.

* * * 

See also:

Giving on    (on

Donating is a Great Way to Feel Connected to Your Community

Charitable Donations: Top Ten Canadian Tax Tips 

A Year of Living Generously

New Book Inspires Readers to Compassion, Social Justice 

Celebrating Co-operatives 

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