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Philanthrocapitalism by Bishop and Green: Book Review

Updated on October 20, 2011

Matthew Bishop and Michael Green’s Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World reads like a “who’s who” of the philanthropic world.

From big names like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to lesser-known figures like Chuck Feeney and Donald and Doris Fisher, Philanthrocapitalism provides an informative compendium of donors, social organizers and business leaders who have chosen to give away some, or even most, of their earnings to serve the social good.

Yet Philanthrocapitalism goes beyond simple rote description of the major philanthropic players of our time. Bishop and Green quite effectively analyze the ways in which philanthropy as we know it is changing into a new model.

This model, which the authors dub “philanthrocapitalism,” harnesses the practices and strategies found in the business sector into the business of serving the greater good. In this new form of giving, small contributions are not simply trickled into the service of charity. Instead, donors are allocating large amounts of capital and strategic resources towards solving concrete issues, often with unprecedented success rates.

Philanthrocapitalism excels in its in-depth review of innovate strategies and concrete analysis on the ways that traditional business models can be incorporated into the sphere of philanthropy.

Bishop and Green manage to tackle some hot-button issues with relative clarity, such as the relationship between philanthropy and the state, the emerging “cult” of celebrity giving, and potential conflicts of interest between the model of philanthocapitalism and the old guard of charitable giving.

The book reads not only like an introduction to the major players in the philanthropic game, but also as a manual for those seeking to take their first step into philanthropy.

However, there are still a few points for criticism within the book. While Bishop and Green seem to have immense knowledge of so many well-known figures, as well as a firm grasp on the structures of both the business and charitable sectors, they clearly come into the work with a few biases firmly in place.

The authors at some points appear to be almost star-struck by the personalities they describe. At times, they allow a few significant achievements within the philanthropic world to outweigh greater moral and ethical considerations. Almost anyone who has managed to found an organization in line with the principles of philanthrocapitalism is lauded, no matter how controversial that figure may be in other areas.

One notable example is the South American mining tycoon who, after making a considerable fortune in the industry, decided to start a foundation addressing the needs of the impoverished mine workers in his home country. While his efforts are admirable, Bishop and Green completely gloss over the fact that it was the substandard wages and poor working conditions set by the mining tycoon himself that was a major contributor the poor living conditions of the mine workers.

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Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World
Philanthrocapitalism: How Giving Can Save the World

This version includes a forward from former President Bill Clinton.


While Bishop and Green have overall made an admirable case for both the necessity of philanthropic giving, as well as the need for innovation within this culture, they are unable to disguise the fact that they are, first and foremost, ardent capitalists, albeit with a slightly humanitarian bent.

Though they do not disguise the fact that their aim is to inject the principles of capitalism into philanthropy, they do at times forget that worth is not always measured by a dollar amount. While there is much for readers to learn with the pages of Philanthrocapitalism, they would be wise to reserve their own judgment on the merits of any one of the organizations and people showcased here.


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    • Anaya M. Baker profile image

      Anaya M. Baker 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Thanks for all the comments everyone. I know, I know, I missed the boat on these.

      At any rate, I really appreciate the thoughtful comments, and Tom, thanks for sharing that Joseph Wall quote- priceless!

      I feel torn in some respects. It angers me that people do despicable things in the pursuit of wealth, then do good in the pursuit of fame, respect, a legacy, etc. Yet at the same time, I certainly wouldn't want to discourage philanthropic giving, especially a culture of philanthropy, because at the end of the day it does do some important work that the government is simply unable to fund. I guess I just wish people would take a minute to look at the overall picture before tooting all the bells and whistles because some tycoon gave away a miniscule percentage of wealth that he will never miss anyways.

    • Tom Koecke profile image

      Tom Koecke 6 years ago from Tacoma, Washington

      Nice balance in your review of the book.

      Your comment about the South American mining tycoon reminds me of something I read about a highly regarded philanthrocapitalist from a hundred-plus years ago, Andrew Carnegie: "Maybe with the giving away of his money," commented biographer Joseph Wall, "he would justify what he had done to get that money."

    • profile image

      Digs 6 years ago

      Great commentary--thank you. The book you describe and your insights strike at the core of a dilema that has eternally faced humanity. Philanthropy or any "giving," to be meaningful must come from moral imperative. Philanthropy in the pursuit of political or philisophical determination, in the end fades into obscurity as merely another footnote in man's quest to secure his own immortality, by his own devise. Some people build monuments to themselves from stone, others seek the same end using wealth. Granite lasts longer!

    • Jeff May profile image

      Jeffrey Penn May 6 years ago from St. Louis

      Interesting and informative. Nice job. (voted up)

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      This appears to be a topic that is neglected. Interesting.