How Many Ways Can We Be Generous in a Single Day?

Note: this post first appeared on the Huffington Post.  A lot of you know the background, but many have asked how this year’s Generosity Day compared to 2011, so I wanted to share that.  Thank you for making it happen!

That was the question we posed to the world as part of an effort to re-boot Valentine’s Day as Generosity Day. The premise was simple: Could we transform a day that’s been weighted down by overpriced flowers and boxes of candy into one known for active, purposeful generosity to all?

The idea for Generosity Day was hatched last year, after I conversation I had with Katya Andresen at Network for Good about my “Generosity Experiment” — a month in which I said “yes” to absolutely ever request for help.

The idea was simple enough, but changing my standard response from “no” to “yes” wasn’t. Each time I gave to a homeless man or a musician on the street, each time I got a coffee or ate out and I tipped outrageously, each opportunity to help a colleague or greet someone I’d passed every day but didn’t know — these were all opportunities to reassess how I walk through the world, to reevaluate what had become normal behavior of being too rushed, too closed off, too much in my own head to fully see everyone around me.

It was transformative and I wanted others to have that same experience, even if just for a day. Generosity Day 2011 was born out of this very simple idea: Could we get the world to say “yes” for a day? Amazingly, with less than 72 hours of lead time and no budget, we did, so we knew we were on to something and decided to do it again in 2012 to make it even bigger and better.

The day surpassed all expectations, as people all over the world participated and shared their stories. The word spread on social media, where we counted more than 5,000 tweets seen by millions of people, hundreds of articles and blog posts (too many to count), three amazing organizations made videos on their own dime that were seen more than 40,000 times in one day (here, here and here), and Kevin Bacon even tweeted and took an awesome photo to help spread the word. None of this would have been possible without the spontaneous partnership of organizations like Network for Good, Global Giving, the Case Foundation, Kiva, the Gates Foundation, See3 Communications, the Jubilee Project and amazing bloggers like Beth Kanter, Brene Brown, Kelly Wallace, and, of course, Katya Andresen.

More exciting still, thanks to our friends at Causes we were able to create the Generosity Day Causes site, both so people could learn about Generosity Day and so they could share their own generosity stories.

One person shared that she approached an elderly woman on the street and gave her a rose, only to be told that this the first Valentine’s Day flower she’d ever received. Another woman finally had coffee with someone she’d long thought could a new friend — and she was right. A third person told an 80-year-old woman how beautiful she was and the woman shed a tear, saying that no one had told that to her that in years.

Much more than any statistics about the word spreading far and wide, it is these actions that made Generosity Day real, these actions that created innumerable moments of joy. We heard stories of anonymous acts of kindness, outrageous over-tipping and heartfelt thank you notes. We heard about people paying strangers’ tolls on the parkway, folks passing out croissants to the morning-rush crowd, and loads of people who spent the day or the night volunteering. We heard from people who were donating money, and those who were donating blood. We heard from so many people who made the day better for others and experienced the joy of generosity themselves.

These are the actions that rippled through people’s lives, these are the ways that people created new expectations and a renewed sense of possibility — about how they can act, how others might act towards them, and what, collectively, could happen if we all were more purposefully generous each day.

You too can be part of this movement, today or any day. All it takes is the decision to say “yes.”

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