Giving Back: Great Guidebook for Volunteering, Donating Decisions


If you’ve ever struggled with where to volunteer your time, or the most efficient way to donate money, Giving Back by Steven P. Ketchpel, Giving-Back-book-Stephen-Ketchpel-volunteering-donating-good-neighbor-storiesPh.D., is the book for you.

Underscore that advice if you have kids and have always wanted to find ways to volunteer as a family, or teach life lessons about the value of donating to causes you care about.

Ketchpel is a San Francisco Bay Area computer scientist and entrepreneur who grew up in a family dedicated to giving back to the community. He writes that even before he was born his parents were very involved in church, Scouting, and spreading kindness throughout their neighborhood. He grew up in Boy Scouts, and when it came time for his Eagle Project he helped his church modernize by computerizing membership records.

Uncovering Passions and Creating Plans

When I first met Ketchpel in December, he described the book to me as a sort of a What Color is Your Parachute for volunteering and donating. In other words, a guidebook to help users discover their passions and create strategic plans for service and giving away money.

With all the precision you would expect from a computer scientist, Ketchpel takes readers step by step through the process, from outlining one’s interests, to finding the right volunteer experiences, to prioritizing donations, evaluating nonprofits, and even assessing progress. Readers can find advice that’s as broad or as detailed as they need within the chapters and appendices.

Yet as precise and detailed as the book is, it’s written in a very approachable style with uplifting and interesting examples throughout, both from Ketchpel’s own experiences and in stories from other givers.

Excellent Family Resource

While an individual will find many helpful strategies and resources in Giving Back, families with a mind toward shared philanthropic experiences will find the book especially helpful. Chapters in the book include, “Involving Your Family,” “Volunteering With Children”, and “Donating With Children”.


Stephen Ketchpel discusses his book Giving Back with a shopper at a holiday fair in December 2012.

There are terrific prompts for “Listening and Learning Conversations” to get discussions going about making joint decisions on what volunteer project a family takes on, or where to donate money. With each conversation there are suggested ground rules for how family members share and listen throughout the discussion, as well as goals for the outcome, the general flow, and questions to use for reflecting back on how helpful the conversation turned out. Ketchpel includes special notes directed separately to parents and children at all levels with each exercise.

Not just helpful for discussions surrounding charitable family experiences, the “Listening and Learning Conversations” could be used as models for any family discussion that involves coming to consensus or a common understanding.

Helpful Exercises and Advice

Also included in the book are helpful exercises, like the “Twenty-Nickels Exercise”, which both children and adults will find useful in clarifying just how interested in a particular cause or charity they are, and how much time or money will be directed (or not) toward specific organizations. Ketchpel provides worksheets throughout—all available for download online at his website—that help to further clarify thinking and keep track of progress.

Ketchpel includes in the book valuable advice on how to evaluate charitable organizations in making a decision to commit to either service or a donation, and points to online resources where potential donors can see how trustworthy and efficient nonprofits are. He even includes an appendix on how to understand the IRS 990 form, required of all nonprofits, except religious organizations.

For those who want to be even more involved in organizations—as board members, or donors of large amounts, for example—there’s useful advice in Giving Back. And if you’ve ever thought about starting your own nonprofit, you’ll find a extensive list of aspects to consider and questions to ask yourself before taking the plunge.

The book is extremely thorough, highly recommended for anyone who wants to be more strategic in decisions when it comes to giving back.





  1. A great book! We’re happy to make it available in our shop and online at


  1. […] a follow-up to my review of his book, he agreed to answer that question and a few more about donating and […]