Strategic Giving by Peter Frumkin

I just finished reading Peter Frumkin’s Strategic Giving. The book came out in 2006 and the 35 pages of notes and 25 page bibliography will scare away a lot of readers.

But Strategic Giving is one of the best philanthropy books I’ve read.

I don’t usually take notes while I read, but my copy of Strategic Giving is now unfit to pass on to anyone else. Frumkin covers a lot of ground, including one of the most thoughtful, well reasoned critiques of venture philanthropy that I’ve seen. But it is Frumkin’s Five Elements of Philanthropy that lays down a framework useful to anyone interested in understanding philanthropy.

To Frumkin, there are five purposes that animate philanthropy:

  • Change: Using private funds to create social and political change.
  • Innovation: Locating and supporting important social innovations.
  • Equity: Striving for economic equity through redistributive giving.
  • Pluralism: Supporting the civic virtue of pluralism.
  • Expression: Supporting the self-actualization of donors.

This framework is extremely helpful in putting into context many of the debates that rage in philanthropy. For instance, when Michael Edwards and Matthew Bishop debate the validity of Philanthrocapitalism, it is important to understand that Edwards sees Equity as the main purpose of philanthropy while Bishop is more strongly driven by the Innovation purpose.

In addition, the framework reconciles the public benefit of giving with the private benefit that donors get from using the Expression element in search of self-actualization (a purpose that I explored in the Stanford Social Innovation Review last year).

Unlike many philanthropy books that either examine recent trends in philanthropy or argue in favor of a certain approach, Strategic Giving is a lucid, compelling exploration of the art and science of philanthropy.

It is a must read book and it earns a place in the Tactical Philanthropy Bookstore.


  1. Even for “old philanthropy” the expressive meaning value of giving can not be overlooked. We have a mission we would actually like to accomplish and need grantees and projects to validate that mission. As a staff program person, I am still looking for proposals that would be exciting and game changing if they were to succeed.

    Thanks for your review. I will move this book that has been sinking in my pile, higher up.

  2. Great book review: Strategic Giving by Peter Frumkin | Tactical Philanthropy via @ShareThis

  3. Reading: a review of “Strategic Giving” by Peter Frumkin on Tactical Philanthropy ( )

  4. I hope you like the book. It is well worth being on the top of your reading list!