Men of amazing entrepreneurial genius, like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and Henry Ford, built commercial empires larger than the world had ever seen; they produced astronomical returns on investment and were rarely tricked out of their money in business deals. But when they turned to giving that money away, they failed. And as Martin Morse Wooster so finely reports in this book, many other persons of somewhat smaller wealth have also had their charitable plans go awry.
Wealthy and prestigious colleges, Wooster documents, have treated donors shamefully. The donors’ own staff and assistants have betrayed the vision of the men and women who gave them the money they now abuse. Even family members have utterly disregarded how their ancestors wanted the fruits of their labor to be used. Billions upon billions of dollars that were earned in the American marketplace by titans of industry are now in the hands of treacherous philanthropic elites who use that wealth to attack the very system that generated it.
So if you’re a donor contemplating how to structure your giving, I suggest you skim some of the detailed history in Part I of this book, which lays out the leading horror stories of American philanthropy. Then you may want to skim more slowly through Part II, where Wooster tells the stories of luckier families, who have achieved better results through careful planning and hard work.
Lastly, you should focus your attention most keenly on the final chapter, which features practical advice based on the histories in Parts I and II—because you must face the brutal fact that it is not easy to give well, even while you’re living. After you’re gone, the odds of successful giving are stacked even higher against you.
Scholars of philanthropy, on the other hand, will want to savor every word of Wooster’s fascinating history, which unearths so many little-known details of this critical aspect of American giving. Perhaps those scholars will also have a pang of guilt at their own neglect of this topic, because only four books have ever been written on this history: namely, the first, second, third, and now fourth edition of this work.