Thoughtful Giving: When Doing Good Feels Great
by John Stanley
How do you view your acts of generosity? You know you're making a difference, but it may still not feel like enough: writing checks, serving on boards, and attending fundraising events are all actions that can sometimes leave you feeling like you aren't having the impact you want to have. You are probably experiencing a constant stream of requests to help, resulting in a tendency to sit back and wait for the right opportunity, or the right time. Many of us in the financial services field feel like we've become a convenient mark for fundraisers. The truth is, giving can be gratifying and enjoyable—if you have a plan. What's more, you can make the most of what you have to give, and create lasting change.
If your desire is to improve people's lives and the planet we all inhabit, then you understand how important it is to be generous with your gifts. Chances are you learned this from your parents, your mentors, or your place of worship, but you might not have been taught how to be effective with your giving. By default, you do what comes to you. And because you've been richly blessed, there's no shortage of requests.
For example, a friend calls you up to buy a table at the yearly gala for his pet project. You say yes because you don't want to disappoint him—plus, you'll be calling him for a return favor in a few months. Your alma mater wants a capital contribution and promises to put your name on a plaque. You're not keen on the direction the school has taken since you graduated, but you still send a token amount. Your family foundation obligates you to give the annual minimum requirement that lines up with original donor intent. Still, you wonder whether the grants are relevant and get the job done. The chair at a community organization wants you to commit for another term on the board. You think there must be more than attending meetings and asking your friends for money.
When you give this way, your generosity feels haphazard, and you have a hard time realizing the good you're doing.
Gaps in Your Generosity
In my experience in the nonprofit and philanthropic world, I've seen three holes open up when people don't know how to give thoughtfully—I define these as "generosity gaps":
The Action Gap: "It's not the right time." These folks are waiting for some future event when they imagine that giving will be easier or have more impact. They promise themselves they'll do more when the kids finish college, when they sell their business, or when they retire.
The Accumulation Gap: "I don't have enough." These folks are held back by an honest desire to make sure their family is provided for first. Their "extra" seems inadequate in the face of huge needs, and insignificant compared to what others give. When they do write a check, they feel poorer instead of better.
The Gratification Gap: "I might be making a difference, but I'm not seeing lasting change." These folks wonder whether their generosity really matters. They feel donor fatigue and volunteer burnout, and don't know how long they can keep going.
Many people who experience those Generosity Gaps just carry on, and I won't fault them for that. But I'm not willing to settle for good-enough giving, and neither should you. Of course, lots of philanthropists do just fine without a strategy. But if you're searching for clarity and confidence in your giving, let's talk about what you can do.
Start with a vision of where you're headed. Choose one of your favorite experiences of generosity—a time when you really connected with the people involved, one that made you feel energized and fulfilled. I bet that experience made you feel fulfilled in the following ways:
- Your feet followed your money. You showed up, met the organizers and the people they served, and enjoyed the human interaction. You made new friends, and felt valued as a person—not just as a dollar amount.
- You used your strengths. The experience called on skills and talents you were born with and developed over years of practice. The work felt like joy because you were giving your best doing something that felt natural.
- Your heart was in it. The cause was personal. If you read a headline about it, you'd jump off the couch and start a passionate conversation with your spouse.
This is what I call connected generosity. Giving is successful when it fulfills our heart's desire for connection with God and others.
The Benefits of Connecting
When we give from our whole selves, and the full range of our resources (not just money), we do the most good. If you can partner with organizations that recognize a need for the particular gifts you offer, the ones that encourage genuine conversations, you'll see your initiatives bear fruit. On the other hand, if you work with groups where you're interchangeable with any other donor or volunteer, or where your encounters are superficial, then you'll struggle and experience generosity gaps.
If you want your giving to have its greatest impact, your goal should be to connect with people, projects, and causes that engage your heart. When that happens, my guess is that you'll experience all of the following:
Richer Relationships. Connected generosity deepens your relationship with your spouse and children, your faith, your professional network, and your nonprofit and philanthropic contacts.
More Gratification. Connected generosity helps you find meaning and satisfaction in the work you do to help others because you know that you're fulfilling your purpose.
Effective Giving. Connected generosity ensures that you create as much change as you can from what you have to invest.
When you're purposeful about giving, not only do you have the satisfaction of knowing you're doing good, you will feel great.
© 2016 John Stanley
John Stanley advises major donors and strategic grant-makers on how to do the most good with their currencies. He also provides management services to donors, foundations, and nonprofits that want to increase their impact by giving from the heart. Find him at GenerosityGameplan.com
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