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  • Writer's pictureHannah Boundy, CFA®, CFP®

Raising Givers

When I was a senior in high school, on the last Thursday of every month, I would bake several hundred mini muffins and take them to school the next day. My friends and I called it Muffin Fridays. I have no recollection of how it started. Probably a moment of teenage-brain brilliance, masked as insanity. But it became a monthly tradition. I’d put the bags of little muffins – poppyseed, cinnamon, and blueberry into gift bags and carry them around the school with me wherever I went. Is the history teacher looking haggard? A mini muffin for you. A classmate having a bad day? Here, have a cute little muffin. I made so many friends. Who doesn’t love a miniature baked good?

 

Muffin Fridays was silly; born of a 17-year-old’s need to bring some brevity into her seemingly complex adolescent world (if only she knew what kind of complexity taxes would bring to her life, but I digress). But it taught me a lot of valuable lessons about small kindnesses. In his book Give and Take, renowned organizational psychologist and Wharton business professor Adam Grant discusses the unique link between being a giver and experiencing personal and professional success. In comparing givers with takers, he says the following: 

 

"When takers win, there’s usually someone else who loses. Research shows that people tend to envy successful takers and look for ways to knock them down a notch. In contrast, when givers (…) win, people root for and support them, rather than gunning for them. Givers succeed in a way that creates a ripple effect, enhancing the success of people around them."

 

When we think about generosity in the context of work or our children’s educational environment, it’s tempting to find ourselves in a scarcity mindset. After all, if the pie is fixed, we need to be careful what we give up. If I’m trying to further my professional interests, shouldn’t I focus on taking whatever resources I can to further my career? If my goal is for my children to get into the best school, shouldn’t I push them to focus on their learning needs and do whatever it takes to graduate at the top of their class? But Grant’s research suggests that individuals who are constantly taking, or even matching what’s given to them in a reciprocal manner, often encounter limitations to their ambition. This is in part because, as the quote suggests, collaboration is key to innovation and when creative collaborators craft effective solutions everyone ends up better off.



What’s interesting about Adam’s research is that he finds that givers – habitually generous people – often reside at both ends of the corporate ladder. This means that there is also a potential risk to being too generous or being generous without advocating for your own needs and genuine wellbeing. While Adam’s research finds that some givers give away too much without advocating for their own interests and end up at the bottom end of the success spectrum, he also finds that those with an expansive and intentional sense of generosity are often found at the upper echelons of success. He describes this growth-oriented mindset:

 

"This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding a way of expanding the pie that benefits themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is zero-sum, in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts."

 

I don’t know about you, but I think it is tricky business raising kids right now. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that conflict and hardship are not new traits of the 21st century, and history is full of repeating patterns. At the same time, the world is more technologically advanced than it has ever been. My kids are learning to write code that directs robots in school. I never did that. AI offers immense potential and is also wildly uncertain. Social media is everywhere, and it’s getting harder and harder to discern what is true and what is not. And amid this constant influx of information, I hope to raise children who aren’t successful merely by monetary standards or in terms of honorary plaques and accolades but in terms of their ability to be active and responsible participants worldwide. And to that end, I want to teach them to be thoughtful givers as well as thoughtful advocates.

 

Grant’s research doesn’t simply conclude that thoughtful givers are happier but that they are more likely to succeed professionally and have a meaningful impact within their circle of influence. This is because intelligent givers know how to give in a way that increases reciprocity – I can help you with this and maybe someday you can help me too. True, there are instances when altruism is best offered unconditionally. However, in a collaborative setting like the classroom or a workplace, there are also considerable benefits to establishing cultures of giving and reciprocity. Indeed, communities thrive when they are built on the belief that we all have something valuable to contribute and receive. I love to bake for my friends and neighbors. I’ve also come to find deep value in my ability to reach out when I need help with school drop-off when my husband is traveling or when I could use some soup because we all have the flu. 

 

A few months back, I was talking with a group of parents, and the topic of our neighborhood school came up. There was considerable turnover at the school last year, and only some were pleased with the transition. I listened intently and, the next day, emailed the new principal. “I’d like to lean in,” I told her. Amid the grumblings, I saw yet another opportunity to give. I wouldn’t bake muffins – it was easier ten years ago before everyone realized the gluten in the muffins made them feel crummy, but we would find a new way to introduce small kindnesses. These days, we buy little mason jar flower arrangements every Tuesday and send them anonymously to the school for teachers who need a little pick-me-up. We tie a little tag with a Starbucks gift card to the front that reads “We appreciate you!” in part because I want my kids to understand what generosity looks like and why we’re doing it, and also because I know that these teachers play a pivotal role in forming my kid’s perspectives on life. I want our teachers to know we genuinely appreciate their work in teaching math, science, reading, writing, the arts, how to be healthy, and ultimately, how to show up and how to be kind. And in return, I hope they teach my kids all those things with the care and attentiveness that the best teachers bring to a classroom because they know they’re valued in that space.

 

I believe that wealth has an inertia – one that I’ve reflected on in the past. I recently sat in on a family meeting with a trust attorney who said wealth shines a light on what is already there – it magnifies our habits and values. As I consider raising my own children in a privileged context, I continue to be inspired by the givers and takers research and the idea that teaching them an abundance mindset will not only benefit their souls but also their goals, their ambitions, and their future communities. In the end, I believe raising givers will make the world a better place. You can learn more about our thoughts on building and leaving meaningful legacies by checking out some of our other reflections below. If you’re interested in defining and implementing your own living legacy, please don’t hesitate to reach out – we’d love to connect with you about what it is you love.

 

“There’s something distinctive that happens when givers succeed: it spreads and cascades.” ― Adam M. Grant, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.

 

 

Grant, Adam. Give and Take Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. Penguin Books, 2013.

 

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