Book Review: “Delusional Altruism: Why Philanthropists Fail to Achieve Change and What They Can Do to Transform Giving

by Kris Putnam-Walkerly

Reviewer: Anthomy Pomes

Recently, amid the continued abject horror that is the Coronavirus, I agreed to play a game of Monopoly with my equally-stuck-at-home family. The eventual, and total, decimation of my board game liquidity — along with the collapse of my fledging hotel properties, including Park Place — was enough to make me want to drive an open pair of scissors into my eyes ala Greek tragedy. Having successfully staved off self-destruction by the next morning, however, I found that I had been assigned to review a new book. The title intrigued me — after all, I thought, wasn’t the book’s main title of Delusional Altruism comprised of two words that meant the same thing? With our world now on the brink of both medical and financial collapse, was this really the time for a book about how to give money away? As it turns out, the book’s remarkably clear and optimistic view that we all stand to gain more by giving more might be precisely what is needed to bring everything in our world back to normal.

With Delusional Altruism (Wiley), longtime philanthropy advisor Kris Putnam-Walkerly has crafted the definitive insider’s guide to creating truly transformational change whether through regular donations to charity; a small family foundation; or a far-larger organization given the responsibility to create and disburse several millions of dollars in grants and the like. Make no mistake — the book is certainly aimed at what could credibly be deemed a “niche” audience, particularly at this time of massive unrest and unemployment throughout this country. Every good effort starts from a good idea, though, regardless of size — and that is where this book has so much to give to its readers.

The author is wise enough to realize right at the start of the book that most folks first need to understand that far more of us are “philanthropists” as we realize. While pointing out through three different examples that each have the same goal in common — namely, to change the world — Putnam-Walkerly explains that since so many of us already “donate time, money, experience, skills, or talent” to help make things better in life, we are already philanthropic by nature. Once she sorts that out for the reader, the real work begins as she proceeds to explain how a challenge to our nature — what comes to us most intuitively from day to day — is crucial to helping us escape what she calls the “scarcity mind-set,” and moving towards a fuller method of giving that can ideally improve and increase our collective sense of self through donated cents and dollars.

The toughest obstacle to this mindset is always going to be that one dirty word — cheapness. Often in the business world — small or big, regardless — that word is actively swapped out for another word like “frugality” or “budgeted.” That is where Delusional Altruism reveals its sharpest brilliance — if you as the reader are to engage openly with Ms. Putnam-Walkerly’s crisply worded and sublimely reasoned arguments for how to reinvent the how in your philanthropic endeavors, you will come to find a far more giving and contended you at the center of the financial, social, emotional, psychological, and spiritual nexus that is our present world. The book considers this improved state of thought as the “abundance mind-set” If only because so many of our businesses — small ones, especially — are principally occupied with the immediacy of maintaining their very existence, and are working hard to “come back” following the initial emergence of the current pandemic, this switch in fiscal perspective may be something that the majority is not yet ready to fully embrace. With that in mind, this reviewer certainly feels that Ms. Putnam-Walkerly’s excellent work here can be just as richly embraced — perhaps more so — by those who are still in college or are moving now into the corporate sector. If ever there were a time in Western history when the unjust inequality of wealth needed to be set right, we are living it right now. It will not be easy, though — that losing game of Monopoly hovers over us all.

Perhaps this problematic but necessary book’s virtues are captured best in its Foreword by Fidelity Charitable president Pamela Norley, who has this to say about Ms. Putnam-Walkerly’s work here: “Kris’ straightforward, easy-to-read guidance within these pages helps [readers] identify and conquer delusions that may be holding you back from making a measurable social impact through altruistic efforts . . . This book is a rewarding investment for any reader interesting in reexamining and changing how you give to accomplish the greatest impact for a cause you’re passionate about.” If you feel that an investment in the world around you is worth the time and effort, then pick up a copy of Delusional Altruism and set about changing your mind — without minding the change.

Anthony Pomes has worked steadily as a freelance writer/editor and frequent ghost writer for more than two decades.