2012 Year End Book List
Quirky Egg-Headed Organizations
Innovative Investment Organizations and Other Investment-Related Links
Nonprofits and Philanthropy
Investment, Business, Behavioral Finance Books
Other Non-Fiction
Novels, Stories and Poetry
What, You've Read All of Those?
Arts of All Sorts
Odds and Ends
Innovative Ventures

Nonprofits and Philanthropy:

How to give to small farmers and local communities around the world
There are, thankfully, lots of ways to direct a gift to different sorts of local agriculture and community development, and you probably already know many in your own hometown. Here we highlight just a few more – Oxfam, Heifer International, Slow Money, and First Peoples Worldwide. You can sponsor baby chicks, water wells, art supplies, wood stoves… all kinds of great possibilities. One of Oxfam’s most popular gifts this year is a toilet, only 50 bucks! Surely there is someone on your list for whom this is the perfect gift.

Heifer International:
Slow Money: Note that Slow Money does not offer the “catalog” style of the others, but this group is focused on financing local food systems, so we highlight it as a philosophical match with the others.
First Peoples Worldwide:,
First Peoples’ grant programs support grassroots projects of indigenous communities around the world. If you believe in the power of deep local knowledge, this is a wonderful way to support it! Check out the second link for their powerful grantee stories, more eloquent than I could ever explain here.

Citizen Effect
Have you ever found a project or an organization or a cause that you are passionate about, and wanted an easier way to spread the word to your network and amplify your own giving? Well, then, Citizen Effect might be for you! This group aggregates interesting projects from all over the world, working with local partner organizations. You can either become the champion for a project, leading the charge to garner support for it, or your can contribute to one that’s already in the works.

How to give an open-ended charitable gift
Are you tempted to give a charitable donation in someone’s honor, but unsure of exactly where their own preferences lie? These options allow you to give a ”gift for giving”, where the recipient gets to choose the charitable beneficiary.

Charity Gift Certificates
You can order gift cards from this site and the recipient chooses which charity to donate to (there is a long list to choose from, but it’s not infinite – so check first if you have particular interests in mind). I discovered this organization when a colleague gave me one of these cards instead of a business card - it was even better than the guy from a (now-defunct) finance company who used to give out dollar bills.

Giving to others through a charitable gift fund
This one is specific to readers who happen to have a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund – did you know that you can give an e-gift to another person, to “spend” from your own account? This allows freedom for the recipient to pick the charity they prefer, and allows you to pass along some of the giving power from the donations you’ve already made to your fund.

Non-Profit Groups I Admire:

Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program
I am an active volunteer with Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village program – it is a great way to travel and a tangible way to work for others.  There is an ongoing list of upcoming teams on their website – many have asked me for this information over the years, so here it is. This list makes a great 10 minute ‘coffee break vacation’ where you can fantasize about (or hopefully plan!) your next overseas adventure. Habitat has faced some interesting organizational challenges in recent years but I remain a firm believer in the concept that decent housing is one of the key enablers of healthier, wealthier lives.

Room to Read
I have less direct experience with Room to Read than some of the other organizations listed here, but along with housing, literacy and education (especially girls’ education) are key components that have huge positive leverage in determining the longer term health and wealth of families and communities. I also admire how this organization seems to have grown quickly but effectively in recent years.

Common Impact
I first worked with this small nonprofit when it was a startup, and I’ve been on the board for several years. Common Impact matches volunteers from global corporations with local nonprofits, providing great benefits to both. This work intrigues me because it operates at the intersection of the for-profit and non-profit realms, where there are a lot of good intentions but a scarcity of ways to harness those intentions effectively. Many intermediary groups pass along fewer resources than they receive themselves, but CI has a leverage of about 7 to 1 – that is, the total resources generated for the nonprofit world through CI’s work are about 7x the amount they receive themselves.

The Santa Fe Institute
The Santa Fe Institute focuses on research of  complex adaptive systems.  Their work is consistently thought-provoking in its multi-disciplinary approach.

Acumen Fund
I am intrigued by Acumen’s ‘patient capital’ approach, and admire the candor with which they discuss their work. If you have not read founder Jacquline Novogratz’s book, The Blue Sweater, yet, it is a great account of the personal journey that has led to the creation of this innovative organization.

Long Now Foundation
The official description of the Long Now Foundation describes their efforts to build a 10,000 year clock (literally), and this is indeed one of their landmark projects. However, the larger point of this group is to foster a longer-term focus (a REALLY longer-term focus). Their work is related to the notion of "layers of time", which describes the flashes of fashion cycles at one end and the centuries-plus clock of nature on the other - a simple but enlightening view of the world (you can see this graphic about this on the right-hand edge of this page: Legendary Stewart Brand, he of the Whole Earth Catalog (and many other things) is the President.

Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston
I normally avoid supporting giant organizations, as there are so many interesting smaller ones where your charitable dollar's impact is immediately visible (this is not necessarily a rational argument, but that's another story). Anyway, I have made an exception for BWH because I have had a lot of different interactions with them over the years and have found their people and operations to be top-notch in every way.  Long ago I spent some time with their neurological researchers, who are doing some of the world's most interesting work on Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases, and more recently I have become intrigued with their Global Health Program, which uniquely prepares physicians to serve effectively in the developing world. The Global Health Program also has close ties to Dr. Paul Farmer and Partners in Health (, which we have mentioned before in Honeybee research. 

Mass College of Art and Design
MassArt is in a unique position, as the only PUBLIC four-year art college in the US (I served on the Foundation board there years ago).  This public status means they are subject to all kinds of specific rules regarding state funding, yet they also have the unique challenge of supporting an artistic curriculum:  for example, there is no line item in the state budget for glassblowing furnace repairs. I support this organization because of its scrappy and creative approach to solving these challenges, and because of the stellar work of its students and graduates. They also host a tremendous spring auction every year, should you find yourself in Boston in April.

Resources for Researching Nonprofits:

One still-common concern amongst donors is that it is hard to get information on charitable organizations. Well, that’s a lot less true than it used to be – here are a few sites that help connect you with details on nonprofit institutions. One note of warning for financial analysts, though – the interpretation of nonprofit tax filings is not really the same as for corporate financial statements. And, one of the toughest but most interesting things about the nonprofit world is how to measure what really counts – lives improved, suffering lessened, joy increased… trying to assess these might be difficult quantitatively, but they are among the most important (some would say the only important) criteria in charitable giving decisions.

Charity Navigator
This group is sort of the Morningstar of the nonprofit world – their site has a lot of helpful general information about giving, plus an easily-searchable database which features their own rankings of various nonprofits. Just like Morningstar, though (or any ranking system), a grain of salt is warranted – for example, one popular criterion to assess nonprofits is the proportion of administrative expense to program expense. In theory, for two like organizations, lower administrative cost is good. But we are rarely comparing apples to apples – this number could be high because the organization is providing lots of important centralized services that fall into the “admin” bucket, or they could just account for costs differently. So, just like analyzing a for-profit company, we need to be cautious in jumping to firm conclusions based on a narrow set of inputs. Still, there is a lot of helpful information here!

Guidestar is closer to the SEC/EDGAR database – lots of information, with a little less interpretation than Charity Navigator. Similar benefits and cautions to the above.

Other Helpful Resources
We also asked our friends at nonprofit consulting firm extraordinaire, Dynamic Solution Associates, for some tips on evaluating nonprofits.They have put together a helpful summary document of some additional resources. Click here to view.

Innovative Ways to Give Charitable Gifts:

Give Charity Gift Certificates
You can order gift cards from this site and the recipient chooses which charity to donate to (there is a long list to choose from, but it’s not infinite – check first if you have particular interests to investigate). A colleague recently gave me one of these instead of a business card - it was even better than the guy from a (now-defunct) finance company who used to give out dollar bills attached to his cards.

Give "Grant Certificates"
If you like the idea above and have a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund, you can do the same thing through your account there – this is a great innovation and one that many Fidelity clients don’t know about yet.

Give "Real Stuff"
There are several programs that give “real stuff” to people in need – things like goats, chickens, even honeybees! One of the most popular and reputable in this arena is Heifer International:

"Give" a Loan
Microfinance has grown rapidly in recent years, with some large institutions (including for-profit companies) getting into the field. This is a legitimate and growing arena for investors (a whole separate topic), but there is also a lot of appeal to making a more personal connection through micro-lending. In this regard, Kiva has become a successful clearinghouse (link below) – note that you are making a loan and not a gift, so charitable rules may not apply for tax purposes etc.

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