CauseWired by Tom Watson

CauseWired by Tom Watson: This is not a book I would have read had I not received it for my participation in Blog Action Day 2008. (Yes, I’ve had the book for a year and just now got around to reading it. That’s actually pretty good considering there was no deadline.) I’m not usually interested in current events books (that’s what the internet is for) or books about how OMG teh intarwebs are changing everything (ditto). But I also never pass up a free book, which has probably done more to broaden my horizons than any concerted effort on my part.

But that’s neither here nor there. The fact of the matter is that I would not have picked up this book on my own, but I’m glad I read it. It is more or less a discussion of the impact of social media (Web 2.0, Facebook, that kind of stuff) on philanthropy. From Hurricane Katrina to the 2008 US presidential campaign to a myriad of other internet start-up charities, there’s a whole lot of information in this relatively slim volume. I was particularly drawn in by the descriptions of Kiva and DonorsChoose, both of which are about reducing the middlemen between the donor and the receiver. I even made a loan on Kiva to Saret Sao in Cambodia. The idea of helping a specific person really appeals to me, and the knowledge of what exactly my money is doing makes me want to donate more. At worst, I don’t get my $25 back. I can deal with that. At best, I help a businesswoman grow her business. Which is awesome.

Some of the book bored me, such as the discussion of the 2008 presidential campaign. I suspect that might be because it’s too recent; I’m still tired of the nonstop politicking leading up to the election. The liberal bias was a touch irksome too, which is telling considering I voted for most of the candidates Watson was praising. (For example, where did he get the idea that Ron Paul was an anarchist? People who are truly anti-government don’t run for office under the banner of a major political party. They’d put all their cronies out of a job.) I suspect, being a blogger and a Twitterer and a Facebooker and (sort of) a “millennial” already, I am not the target audience anyway. But once elections were off the table, the rest of the book was surprisingly engaging, and made me want to do more research on my own. The list of links and references in the back alone are worth photocopying.

So in short: I’d recommend this book if you’re a jaded would-be philanthropist looking for new opportunities. Yes, the billionaire donors are still the world-changers, but slowly us ordinary guys are banding together and making a difference.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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