The Power of Effective Giving

Mon, 05 May 2014

The blogosphere is filled with pronouncements of problems: some with easy solutions (at least in the mind of the blogger) and some without easy solutions.

I’m pleased to tell you, however, that today’s post is about inspired by a problem that everyone thinks exists, but doesn’t: people being purely selfish.  We seem to assume that everyone is only willing to do what’s in their own interest.

Spend a few minutes thinking about it, though, and you’ll recognise that an awful lot of good is done in the world by a lot of people genuinely thinking of others.  Great parents that want the best for their children.  Doctors, nurses, teachers and social workers that can only do their job by focussing on the wellbeing of others.  Artists, musicians and authors that love to bring pleasure to others.  Managers and business professionals that care about allowing those around them to flourish.  We care for and help each other way more than we think we do.

I’ve just finished Adam Grant’s excellent book “Give and Take”, which explores just how natural giving can be.  Pleasingly, it also shows that giving can be the most successful strategy, even in a world where not everyone gives.

Some people need a bit of convincing to be more giving.  Maybe they hate being ruthless, but have been taught that they won’t succeed otherwise.  For them, this book is well worth a read - filled with anecdotes and studies that show how givers succeed.

But where the book differs from some other books promoting altruism is that it recognises the circumstances under which giving can become harmful to the giver.  We’ve all seen givers who get burnt out, taken advantage of, or are just less effective.  I’m sure there are a few people that see intelligent giving as less pure, but for those that do want to maximise the value of what they give and ensure their giving is sustainable, the book has a lot of great insight.

Finally, the book discusses how to create a giving community.  The author outlined his experience setting up a “Giving Circle”, where students in his class each asked for help (a crucial aspect of effective giving), and other students helped them.  As they witnessed the amount of helping being done a feeling of community was built, and even the sceptics and those who considered themselves “takers” found themselves appreciating the satisfaction they gained from being able to give.

I could relate to this having experienced the behaviour on my previous company’s online collaboration platform (described by John Stepper in many of his great blog posts).  Despite being a global bank, where employees might be assumed to me more motivated to self-promote and compete, in fact the vast majority of behaviour became “giving” and a sense of community was built.

There are many people I know and have worked with who are extremely effective in their giving (as well as being happy with their lives), and I’m sure you’ll know many such people.  If you’re keen to become more effective and sustainable giver, or to help others understand the power of giving and contribute to a giving community, I’d highly recommend this book.