Happy Generosity Day 2014

Today marks the fourth year of Generosity Day. I’ve heard from people as far away as Dubai and as close as a local preschool in New York City about their plans for Generosity Day this year. It makes me proud, and it humbles me.

This year, my celebration of Generosity Day is a quiet one. I decided this year that I wanted to focus my energies on the practice of generosity, rather than on further spreading the word about Generosity Day. So the Generosity Day team is not doing a big online media push or reaching out to the press. This feels right this time around. Generosity Day has always been organic and has always lived in the hearts of those who choose to celebrate it. Evolution is part of what makes this a real, living and breathing thing.

For all of you who are celebrating Generosity Day today, I encourage you to take a moment to remember that you are part of a global community that cares about the practice of generosity. This is a community that knows that we can choose to become the people we aspire to be, a community that understands that through practice we grow and evolve, a community that lives everywhere and is owned by no one.

I wish you a day of discovery and of joy. I thank you for the gifts you give to others, the gifts you give to this community, and the gifts you give to yourself.

Giving Tuesday 2013

Ten days ago I had the chance to meet with Henry Timms, the Interim Director of the 92nd Street Y.  Henry posed a question that I’ve been turning over ever since: “if you had to build a community organization (like the Y) in the 21st Century, what would it look like?”

This question is hard because it gets to the core of what we mean by “community.”  In the next century, will our community remain those who are physically nearby?   Meaning, despite all of our online connectivity, will we remain fundamentally and predominantly rooted in the places we send our kids to school, the common spaces we use, the places we shop, and the chance encounters we have that cause us to stop, pick our heads up from our smartphones and our calendars, and have a good 10 minute chat?

Or will borderless communities of common (weird) interests become what define us?  Will our identities, our values, what we care about, and ultimately our sense of community increasingly transcend location?

Or is it both?

And if you ran an organization like the Y, how would you have these two streams interact?

Henry did something surprising and beautiful to start to answer this question.  Of course the core work of the 92nd Street Y is the outstanding arts programming, teaching, preschool, sports and community events.  But why couldn’t the Y, as a community organization, help build a virtual community of shared values, and give space to expression of those values in the real world?

It could, of course.

So Henry, along with a small group of troublemakers (most notably the UN Foundation), created #givingtuesday, a day devoted to generosity of all stripes.  Giving Tuesday serves as the other bookend to Thanksgiving, so that we can start our long weekend with a day of giving thanks, run around like maniacs to shop for bargains on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and then return to the roots of giving and generosity on Giving Tuesday.  What a great idea.

As Henry and I began discussing Giving Tuesday it became clear that a lot could be gained by bringing together the collective energies of the Generosity Day and Giving Tuesday movements.  To kick that off, I’m excited to have the Generosity Day crew lend its collective energies to Giving Tuesday this year.  We’re joining the likes of Melinda Gates, Bill GatesMatthew Bishop, Adam Grant, the Case Foundation,  the UN Foundation and more than 6,000 other nonprofits that are committed to making Giving Tuesday a huge success.

If you’re excited to get involved in Giving Tuesday, the best thing you can do is to make today a day of giving and to spread the word to others.

And, if you’re game, join the likes of Sec of State John Kerry by taking an “unselfie” and posting it to your Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/tumblr/etc. feed.  Here’s mine.


To take it further still, become a Giving Tuesday social media ambassador and help spread the word!

Happy Giving Tuesday.

Generosity Day – and now, the fun part

Earlier this year I found myself wondering: what should I do for Generosity Day this year?  Meaning “I” or “me.”

In many ways, I asked the wrong question.  Of course I have an important role to play, but what I’ve discovered in the past few weeks is the beauty of something you give away: it doesn’t belong to me any more.  Generosity Day is out there in the world, it has touched peoples’ lives, and in this day and age that means that Generosity Day lives and is real and spreads because of all of you.

This year in particular a crack team of volunteers showed up and took things to a whole new level.  Their work and dedication has absolutely blown me away.  And each volunteer had a real story, a personal story, of what happened to them on Generosity Day last year or the year before, and each story was beautiful and profound.  That’s a Genii you can’t put back in a bottle.

There are too many people to thank individually, and too many people who would be left out from any list I could write.  The good news is, you all know who you are.  I thank each and every one of you for showing me what generosity can be, for fueling my optimism, for sharing your own fears and failures so I could share mine, and for deepening my own exploration of generosity which I know just beginning.

In case you missed it, the crew created this fun 55 second video that will bring a smile to your face, as will the beautiful comment from a reader of Brene Brown’s blog about her daughter’s story of buying ice cream for everyone at MacDonalds.  When I read a story like that I’m reminded how real this is – the joy, the way we touch others, what we teach our children, how we walk through the world.  This is important.  This is potentially transformational.  Thank you for being part of it.

Now get out there be generous today.

Try it, you’ll like it.

Generosity Day – is it about the money?

Our stories hold truths for us.

One of my truths is that my journey into generosity began with an encounter with a person on the NYC subway asking for money (FOR homeless people, he was not himself homeless as far as I know).

Saying “No” in that situation makes a lot of sense.  If you don’t believe that, check out Zorro’s very personal comment to yesterday’s post.  He said that his son is homeless, that if someone gives his son money that money will be spent on drugs, that giving to his son is irresponsible behavior.

I don’t know the big answer to the question that Zorro is asking.  My personal answer has been that saying “no” all the time and automatically made me feel less human; and I also don’t believe that every dollar given to a homeless person makes that person worse off.

Even though my story started there, Generosity Day isn’t, for me, about whether or not I give to the homeless.  That said, at the outset, I did feel like giving money more freely was a critical ingredient (the critical ingredient?) to my own practice of generosity.  Four years in, I don’t feel that as strongly, but I still ask myself whether an active practice of giving is essential to a practice of generosity.  Put another way, can I fully explore generosity without directly confronting my relationship to money?

This is one in a long list of questions that’s a work-in-process for me, but here’s where I am today: in today’s society money plays a huge role in defining us.  It is one of our scorecards and an important source of our identity.  (Ugly to say that out loud, but it feels like a fair generalization).  And I think that part of seeing abundance and our good fortune in the world is letting go more of the money we have.  This is where the ancient notion of tithing comes from – that our good fortune flows from the blessings we have received, and part of our work on earth is to share these blessings with others.  (Even if a conversation with religious or doctrinaire underpinnings isn’t your cup of tea, I think it’s impossible to look at the world – the whole world – and deny that some or even most of my or your good fortune is due to accidents of birth.  We won a lottery we never knew we’d entered.  At yet, ironically, it is mostly up to us to decide what to do with that abundance.)

That said, my own practice of giving money is still evolving.  These are hard, challenging, very personal questions.  Broadly, I do give more than I used to and, as important, I agonize much much less about each time I give.  I experience less scarcity.  And that feels right to me.

I also know that this is only part of the equation.  These days I’m as interested in generosity of spirit, the generosity of a heartfelt apology, the generosity of giving time to help another, the generosity of putting yourself out there and (really truly) expecting nothing in return.  So today, for where I am, money is not the focus of my own inquiry, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle.  That said, I do feel that a practice of generosity, a practice of recognizing and sharing abundance, must impact to how we think about, hold on to, and let go of our money.

My hope for this year’s Generosity Day is that people will share their own stories of generosity – the questions they ask themselves, the insights they’ve gained, the fears they confronted (or failed to confront).  Simple stories.  Happy stories.  Hard stories.  Stories that make you laugh.

Stories about what they did on Generosity Day – and before and after.

Fun tools on the Generosity Day site make it easier to commit today to what you’ll do tomorrow. Or just throw a #generosityday into your online updates and we’ll see it!

Generosity Q&A

Edna Rienzi, one of the amazing Generosity Day volunteers, asked to me to do a short Q&A about generosity and Generosity Day (below).  She also shares her own beautiful, honest story in her blog post about her own exploration of generosity – and how learning about vulnerability from Brene Brown helped her understand the fear that she experienced with her own generosity experiment, and helped her reengage with generosity in a new way.

I’m so looking forward to reading all the generosity stories that get shared between now and February 14th.

Q: Generosity is…

Opening your heart, being courageous, creating connection, living a life of service.

Q: What is something you know now about generosity that you didn’t know before your generosity experiment?

A lot. Honestly I’d never given any proper thought to generosity before my generosity experiment and I never thought of it being particularly important. That is, I always admired generous action but I never understood how foundational generosity could be in our relationships, how it is the foundation of all philanthropy and social change work, how all the major religious traditions have generosity as a core foundational pillar, etc.

I find that we walk through the world deciding what to notice. So before I had kids, I never really noticed kids. And once I became a father I saw strollers everywhere! It’s been the same with generosity. Once I started paying attention to generosity, I started seeing it everywhere.

Q: Did your generosity experiment change your behavior in any lasting ways?

It did, but it really was the first steps down the path. I’d love to say that I’m radically altered, but I think change takes time. I’m naturally a highly analytical person, and I think that mindset can create separation. I see people who don’t have to overcome this like I do and I really admire them. That said, like everything in life it is a practice, and by creating a different intention and by creating space for a new orientation, I have seen changes big and small. I’m keeping at it.

Q: In your blog, you wrote that you believed that Generosity Day struck a chord with people because everyone is hungering for more connection and more meaning. What do you think makes connection and meaning more difficult to attain in today’s society?

At least in the West right now, we’re all so hyper-connected, hyper-busy. We’re running around with our heads buried in our devices and our inboxes overflowing. So on one hand we’re more in touch than ever, but it also feels to me like we’ve created so much separation. It’s so easy to tune out the world around us these days, and in some sense I feel like in doing so we’re denying our basic humanity.

Q: How do you respond to critics who say that it is irrational to give just because someone asks? Some, for example, would argue that it’s a more effective use of your money to donate to a homeless shelter than to give to someone begging on the street.

Of course it’s irrational to give just because someone asks! I don’t think giving starts with rationality, I think it starts with expressing a purpose, acknowledging abundance, and confronting the terrifying notion that you (the giver) and the person who receives your gift are not so different from one another.

What I think confused some people about my generosity experiment was that they might have understood me to be saying that everyone should give to everyone always. I don’t believe that. But I also believe that if you never pick up your head when someone asks for help, if you never actually see the person right in front of you with their hand out…well then you’ve lost a tiny piece of your humanity.

I see a lot of parallels between my generosity experiment and my yoga practice (which was pretty regular up until last year when my third child was born!) So much of yoga is about teaching yourself, through repetition, to unlearn patters of thought and reaction that you’ve taught yourself over decades. So while it’s not actually important to be able to contort your body into some strange position and not panic, it’s really important to learn how to be in stressful situations and stay grounded. The yoga poses are practice for real life. Similarly, I wanted to create a new pattern, to cut directly against the grain of saying “No” every time someone asked for a handout—just to see what a habit of “yes” would feel like and how it might change me. So far I’ve been happy with the results.

Q: Are there any requests for help that you would refuse even on Generosity Day?  

Sure—ones that seemed ugly or self-serving or intentionally against the spirit of the day.

Q: Does romance fit into your vision of Generosity Day or does that get lost in the “reboot”?  (One of my daughters, by the way, accused me of being the Valentine Grinch when I explained Generosity Day to her!)

My wife and I still celebrate Valentine’s Day—in fact, if anything, I’ve been more comfortable with Valentine’s Day than she has over the years! I finally understood what she was saying when we had one of our most romantic dinners early on a Saturday afternoon right before she drove me to JFK airport for a trip to Kenya. I’m a real romantic, but I do agree with my wife that saying, “OK, tonight we’re going to have a special memorable evening!!” can raise the stakes too much, and that the most romantic moments are often the unexpected ones.

Q: What do you hope Generosity Day accomplishes this year? And in the next 10 years?

I’ve had this dream that we could actually shift Valentine’s Day and create broader traditions of love and giving on this day. There’s no reason that can’t happen—I think it would be a relief to people (well, maybe not to Hallmark and Godiva, but to lots of folks).

This year, we’re really focusing on people engaging in generous action—in addition to spreading the word. Because the day won’t really stick with you if you don’t behave differently.

I promise, if you engage in just one act of radical generosity this February 14th, you’ll remember it for years to come!

Generosity Day – ready to launch

Just three days until Generosity Day and all the pieces are in place – so now is the time to start spreading the word!

The “why” of generosity and of Generosity Day is something I continue to explore for myself, and I’ll share more thoughts in the next few days.  I just posted a piece on Fast Company’s FastCo.Exist as part of their wonderful generosity series – and in the act of writing that I learned something about what’s at the core of this for me.  What I realized is that when this all started, when I first jumped in to my generosity experiment:

“…I knew almost nothing about generosity. I’d never worried about it, cultivated it, practiced it, or thought about how regularly I failed to be generous. And suddenly I felt a huge disconnect. Suddenly I realized that I could never make the change I wanted to see in the world using half of my brain and none of my heart.”

To me that’s the starting point, and it’s what I keep returning to.  I’m trying to understand what a practice of generosity means in social change work.  I’m trying to cultivate generosity in me because, paradoxically, it is core to so many decisions I’ve made in my life and yet at times it doesn’t come naturally to me.  So I work at it, I try to understand it, I decide to practice it even when it does not come naturally…and slowly, day by day and action by action (but never in a straight line, never just in one direction) I change.

If I have one wish for Generosity Day this year it’s that it be a day of action.  What would it mean to have a million generous acts happen around the world?  It would be transformational.

To help make that happen, this year it’s easier than ever to share your story.  There’s amazing momentum building already on www.facebook.com/generosityday.  People are already tweeting with the #generosityday hashtag – things they’re doing, ways they’ve been touched by generosity, and just to spread the word.  I hope you’ll be a part of it.

Just three days to go.  Can you hear the distant rumble?  That’s the momentum building.

Spread Generosity, and share your story

I’m a very visual person, but I’ve never learned how do to any proper design, so I’ve always been a bit bummed that we’ve not been able to visually represent the beauty and spirit of Generosity Day…until now.

I mentioned yesterday that the folks at Masterminds had done some incredible design work for Generosity Day this year, and this morning we’re launching the www.spreadgenerosity.com site that they designed.

You can get a sneak peak here but please click over and play around some.  There’s lots to discover and all of it is designed to help you share your generosity story and spread the word.

Just three days to go.  Can you hear the distant rumble?  That’s the momentum building.


Snowbound – and feeling lucky

I write this post looking out at 21 inches of newly-fallen snow outside my house, slowly recovering from a bout of the flu (I believe) that has more or less floored me for the last 72 hours.

In the meantime, a growing crew of Generosity Day volunteers has been working up a (virtual?) storm. As I mentioned last week, Parker Mitchell raised his hand to lead up the charge, and he’s been joined now by Arpit Gupta (social media); Chase Ault (social media and local ambassadors), Emily Bergantino (local ambassadors and media), Edna Rienzi (blogger outreach) and Jennifer Fink and the design studio Masterminds (their home page made me laugh out loud – in a good way). I thought you might enjoy a sneak peak of some of the great work they’ve been doing, which will all be going live in the next 24-48 hours on the new Generosity Day website they’re launching as well as on www.facebook.com/generosityday. (see below)

There’s amazing momentum building, and the team just needs a few more volunteers. Here’s what you can do to help.

Share your story

Visit and like the Generosity Day Facebook Page and start spreading the word online using the #generosityday hashtag. Nothing inspires others more than hearing beautiful acts of generosity you have witnessed, or your experiences of generosity and why it matters to you. Send a note to your church group, your school, your online community or your colleagues sharing ideas of what you can do together on February 14th.

Be a Local Media Ambassador

Local media is interested in stories about and from people in their area, we’re looking to sign up local media ambassadors in cities across the country. You don’t need any media experience (in fact this is a great way to get some!). Emily, Chase and the team have prepared materials and training and the team will provide all the support you need. You just need to have 4-6 hours free between now and February 14th. Email Chase Ault and she will send you all the details.

Blog about Generosity Day

The team has already contacted hundreds of bloggers who have written posts about Generosity Day in the past. We hope you’ll all blog again this year – and if you’re not a blogger but you love someone’s blog, you could comment/email that blogger and suggest she write a post about Generosity Day this year.

For those who are blogging, we can’t wait to hear your experiences of generosity, your own action, generosity that you have witnessed and that has touched you. Your readers will feel inspired and braver for hearing your story.

Additional background contact and links for you are here.

Thank you again for being part of this – for everyone from the volunteers to my readers to the people far and wide who have made Generosity Day their own, I’m humbled and am learning from each of you about what is possible.

Generosity Day 2013 badges

How generosity spreads

One thing I’ve noticed about generous action is that it can be hard to talk about.  More specifically, doing something generous and then telling folks about it doesn’t necessarily feel natural.

The interesting part is to watch what happens when you spread a story about someone being generous to you.

For example, when I told people about my wonderful, outrageous experience of a stranger buying lunch for me and my family in Nashville over the holidays, people couldn’t help but share their own stories of wonderful, outrageous generosity they’d experience.  One of my favorites was from a colleague who recalls to this day the time she pulled up to a toll booth and was told that her father, in the car ahead of her, had paid her toll for her.  In her words, “What’s so funny about this is that my father was wonderful, caring…heck he paid for me to go to college…and yet that time he paid my 80 cent toll really sticks in my mind as a moment he did something special for me.”

Our critical brains are so adept at explaining why a small gesture of generosity – money, time, a smile or an open ear – is small, limited, maybe inconsequential.  Yet our own experience of generosity holds the real wisdom.  When we experience generosity, we feel noticed; we understand that we are not so separate from everyone else; we suspect that people around us are there to support us; we don’t feel alone.

When you hear about someone experiencing generosity, it’s almost impossible not to recall and share that day when someone made you feel special, noticed, worthwhile and lucky.

Don’t forget, we’re still on the hunt for a handful of additional Generosity Day volunteers.  Spread the love.

30 Days of Courage

Christen writes, “Sasha, I know Generosity Day is coming up, and I wanted to share something with you. Last year I noticed that others, along with me, struggled with fear when they contemplated radical generosity.”

Thanks Christen.  I agree, and I think you’re on to something.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the fragility of generosity.  I find that my own generous actions can easily be quashed – by fear, doubt, self-criticism, breaking barriers, social risk or vulnerability:

Fear that I’m making a mistake (“should I really give?”) or that my generosity will be rejected or mocked.

Doubt that I’m doing the right thing.

Self-criticism because, let’s face it, I’m great at criticizing, especially myself.

Breaking barriers, because often generosity requires face-to-face interaction with and acknowledgment of someone with whom you don’t have a strong connection (I think this is why I’m interested in the social distance we create with our iPhones and other devices).

Social risk, because you’re breaking about 10 different norms simultaneously (unless you’re part of a community, religious or secular, in which generosity is expected and valued).

And vulnerability because at a moment of giving you are open, you are tapping into something deeply human, you are acknowledging that you’re not so different from the person to whom you are being generous.

Just looking at this list also reinforces my conviction around the importance of cultivating a practice of generosity.  My own chorus of self-criticism is great at recruiting new members, and it’s so easy to belittle the practice of generosity – to think of it as sweet or nice but not truly important.  I think the next time my chorus of critics, internal or external, starts singing, I’ll remind myself that what I’m practicing encompasses everything from overcoming fear to being comfortable with vulnerability.  That feels right.

At the end of his email to me, Christen suggested that anyone who finds themselves confronted by fear – whether in their practice of radical generosity or otherwise – should try out Marianne Elliott’s 30 Days of Courage course.  I didn’t know Marianne before Christen introduced me, but she’s the author of Zen Under Fire, the account of her humanitarian work in Herat, Afghanistan; and is also a teacher of yoga and mediation.  Marianne’s walking the walk.

Generosity Day is less than 30 days away, and your generosity practice, my generosity practice, all of our practices of generosity could probably use a boost.  Maybe 30 days of courage is just what the doctor ordered.  I’ve signed up.

Thanks, Christen.