What I Learned From Adam Grant About Givers | Beth's Blog

What I Learned From Adam Grant About Givers

Philanthropy, Research Studies

Yesterday, at the Points of Light annual Conference on Volunteering and Service I attended a session called “It’s About Science! Unpacking the Relationship Between Volunteering, the Brain and the Body” featuring author Adam Grant, “Give and Take.”     The session was focused on the connection between volunteering and business benefits.

The session was framed by some recent research from UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute called Doing Good is Good for You: 2013 Health and Volunteering Study. The study reveals that U.S. adults who volunteer report that they feel better, both physically and emotionally than adults who do not volunteer. The study also illustrates that employers benefit from employees who volunteer in terms of better employee health and in professional-skills development that employees use in the workplace.

Adam Grant gave an engaging presentation about his research on givers, summarizing a few of the big ideas in his book “Give and Take.”  He said that his research addresses the question:  What does take for everyone to own success?  How can own success be more often and spread it to others?   It used to be hard work, talent, and luck for most people to achieve success.  But in aged of networks and connectedness, it is about how we relate to other people that makes a difference.   People fall into one of three categories:  givers, takers, and matchers.

Here’s a summary of tweets from the session, but he made some good points about how to encourage a culture of giving in the work place:

  1. Get right people on the bus
  2. Reduce the costs
  3. Show the impact
  4. Encourage help seeking

The first point is a hat tip to Jim Collins work, but what Grant means is that it is important to get the takers out of the system – and have an ecosystem of givers and matchers.    The second point is about making your giving more strategy, and less time consuming.   You can give value to someone in five minutes by making an introduction or a referral.  The question to ask is:  “How can I add value to people that is low cost for me?    Be careful of over-extending yourself as a giver and think, “How can you micro-lend your time to many people?”

The third point, “See the impact,” comes from research that when givers do not see their impact, they can burn out quickly.  Giving can be exhausting.  He used this quote, humorously, to illustrate the point:  “Doing a good job here is like wetting your pants in a dark suitYou get a warm feeling but no one else notices.”   So, it important to acknowledge volunteers and show what their donation of their time does.

He asked the audience a question,   “What has more impact.  Spreading out random acts of kindness over five days, with one act per day or doing it in all day?”  Which will energize you more?   Most people thought sprinkling them, but the research suggests that chunking will.

The reason is that you get more impact, if you sprinkle them you don’t see the impact.

The last point is asking for help.  Most givers don’t like to ask for help because they don’t want to be a burden, but that is what can separate a successful giver from a less successful giver.   The key is to be able to accept someone’s help with gratitude and then pay it back or forward. Givers who fail always put others first.  He talked about strategies for creating a culture of asking for help in the workplace.

He talked about a reciprocity ring.  Gather a group of people and make a request.   Everyone then asks for help.  It is hard to be taker without giving.   You make everyone’s needs visible. More this here

After the plenary,  I was invited to a “meet and greet” with a half-dozen other folks and we peppered Adam with questions.

I was curious about how to apply his advice to the nonprofit sector, where there are many people who are passionate about the social change work and tend to be givers and also subject to burnout.    He was introduced as the person who never says “no.”   So, I asked him that was still true and how he decides when to give.   His advice:

  • He said that as he scales it is harder to say yes to everyone
  • He tries to find ways to give that will not take more than five minutes
  • He has a trusted advisers
  • He has prioritized who and why he wants to give:  family, students, colleagues – and everyone else
  • He evaluates every request with a question, “Will this compromise his ability to help the people he wants to help?”  “Is he the unique person to help or can he refer it?”
  • He has gotten very good at spotting “takers” and avoiding saying yes.

I think everyone who works in nonprofits should read his book and think about how they can use his advice to avoid passion fatigue and burnout.

Thank you Adam!


5 Responses

  1. Rufina Fernandes says:

    ‘Give and Take’ by Adam Grant should not only be read by professionals in non-profits but also social entrepreneurs and particularly successful professionals in the for-profit world, to really pause and think on what kind of people they have been – ‘Givers’, ‘Takers’ or ‘Matchers’!! I have always found ‘giving’ and ‘matching’ to be the best forms, as it ends up making the world a slightly better place to live in. Find out who are you, ‘a giver’, ‘a taker’ or ‘a matcher’. Thanks Beth Kanter

  2. Beth Kanter says:

    Thanks Rufina – you are one of the biggest givers I know ….and this is definitely a gift to social entrepreneurs

  3. Ankit says:

    I would recommend you to read “stay hungry stay foolish” by rashmi bansal which is also a great book to read about philanthropy in india, I would liek to share with you giveindia.org which is great option for ‘best Indian charity’ website having almost all donation options

  4. Tracey says:

    I never underestimate the value of gratitude and expressing that continuously to volunteers. When I worked for a publicly traded company in college, the employee volunteer network was full of givers, takers, and matchers, as it applies. “Seeing the impact” made all the difference, as employee volunteers realized their worth in volunteering on weekends. They felt good about the work, and in turn felt good about the company. The volunteer program was wonderful for morale and networking. Great post!

  5. Prashant says:

    Really very good article.

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