The Generosity Exercise

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Aesop

 I like to think that I’m smart about the way I make charitable donations. I feel that social enterprises are generally more effective uses of money, therefore I’m biased to charities that follow this model. So when I came across an article in The Boston Globe titled, “Why we give to charity”, I was surprised to learn about a number of studies that found that the more people think about giving, the less generous they are.

One of these studies, done by scientist Daniel Oppenheimer, found that giving donors more information about a charity’s overhead costs makes them less likely to donate, even if the charity’s costs were low. This was due to something he called the ‘drop in the bucket effect’; the realization of how little their contribution is going to help in the grand scheme of things.

It forced me think about my own approach to giving and about all the times I ignored requests for money or just said ‘no’, and it made me realize that I may not be as generous as I previously thought.

So when our +acumen chapter conducted its own generosity experiment late last year, it allowed me to exercise my generosity muscle in an entirely new way: being generous for the sake of being generous; saying yes, instead of saying no.

My giving mainly consisted of small acts, giving money, time or assistance to those who asked. The results from my one-week experiment were subtle; a smile or a sincere “thank you”. But maybe that’s the point of this exercise.

There’s this great TED talk by Luis von Ahn, where he talks about his software reCAPTCHA, that is digitizing books using crowdsourcing. Every time you type in a security word while buying tickets on Ticketmaster or adding friends on Facebook, you are helping decipher older texts that can’t be read by computers. People are digitizing books at a rate of 2.5 million books per year, one word at a time.

I see Generosity Day as spurring something similar, a combination of many small acts that will result in the change we all want to see in our lifetime. Like reCAPTCHA lead to the translation of the web, this one day could lead to a change in the way we interact and make decisions.

In his own generosity experiment, Sasha Dichter talks about giving a man on the subway $20 for medication. There was no way to know whether this money would be used for medicine, and had Sasha not conducted this experiment, there’s a chance he never would’ve given the man money. But by being more consciously generous it lead him to change his beliefs.

There is no one solution when it comes to solving global poverty. Every one is going to need to pitch in. It’s this idea of a culmination of small, positive actions leading to something meaningful, that inspires me and instills hope that I can make a difference.

VANCOUVER+acumen is supporting Generosity Day with these t-shirts, with proceeds going to Acumen Fund. We will also be celebrating with a Generosity-themed Salon on Tuesday, February 28th at a restaurant to be confirmed. Email us at van4acumen@gmail.com to be notified of details.

– Aki Kaltenbach, @akikaltenbach

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About Vancouver for Acumen

A Vancouver volunteer-run chapter of the Acumen Fund, who is a non-profit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty.
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