Lucy Bernholz
How We Give Now: A Philanthropic Guide for the Rest of Us
The MIT Press, 2021
240 pages

In this timely book, Stanford researcher Lucy Bernholz explores the many ways in which people contribute their time, talent, and treasure—including data—to the common good. Traditional measures of giving that focus on donations to nonprofits paint a startling picture of decline: “Analysis of charitable giving data from 2000 to 2019 revealed that more than twenty million households that used to give had stopped doing so.” In contrast, Bernholz pulls back her lens to reveal a broader picture of “how we give now: people making daily decisions about how to help others, using all of their resources to lift up their communities; using time, money, and data to advance causes.” These many forms of giving include mutual aid, commercial crowdfunding, impact investing, and even uploading photos to online databases to support biodiversity research. Giving circles also get a shoutout for their ability to bring people together to make shared decisions and create community.

Ultimately, however, Bernhoz reminds us, private action takes place within the confines created by the public sphere:

There is a lot that we can do as givers, especially when we join with others. But all that we can do in this voluntary capacity is shaped by the choices we make, the decisions we stand for, the people we elect to represent us, and the laws that we pass and demand to be enforced. The biggest, most powerful giving we can do is to give ourselves to the democratic project of building and running public systems that serve all of us. Only then can we exercise our options to volunteer, give money and data, and build complementary, alternative, expressive communities that reflect who we are and what we aspire to.