Joy is

Watching an idea grow, seeing someone else take it places you didn’t know it could go.

I’ve already shared the wonderful Jubilee Project video for Generosity Day, which magically captured how Generosity Day is fundamentally about reconnecting to love and genuine human connection – on Valentine’s Day and every other day.  I watched it again last night after the dust had settled and I like it more each time I watch it.

But I never would have imagined anyone passing out croissants in the streets of London.  I never would have imagined someone sharing, so openly and honestly, the actual struggle of giving away 10 Starbucks gift cards.   I never would have imagined someone telling a woman in her 80s how beautiful she is, and making that woman cry.

I’m thankful for all the stories I’ve heard, and I know they are just a fraction of the stories there are to tell thanks to the work we did together to spread this idea and to challenge ourselves and our own perceived boundaries and limitations.

Let’s keep pushing (and pass the croissants!).

What would be great

…is if yesterday was the beginning of seeing how we could act the other 364 days of the year.

Not necessarily each and every action, totally unfiltered, but an orientation to the world.

Happy day-after Generosity Day.

(and give us all an extra gift by filling in a square in this beautiful generosity tapestry:

Happy Generosity Day 2012

I’m so excited – the day is here and I’m getting wonderful generosity stories from far and wide.

One person went to a simple, down-home restaurant and appreciated the service so much that he left a tip “as if it had been a four star restaurant;” another guy asked the flower vendor how much he was going to charge for roses on Valentine’s Day (double) and just paid that amount yesterday; someone else had a long conversation with the security guard at the bank who was counting the minutes until the end of his shift.

Today you can give yourself permission to be outrageously kind, irrationally warm, improbably generous.  I promise it will be a blast.

(BONUS: please share what you did or generous acts you witnessed in text/photo/video on the Causes site)

Sitting at the center of this fabulous maelstrom, it’s a joy to see the spirit and love people have put into making today everything it can be.  We have three (three!!) beautiful videos – Celebrating Generosity Day (See3 Communications); Generosity Day: What is Love (Jubilee Project); and Me to We – Generosity Everyday (Hodge Pictures).   These videos are alternately fun, irreverent, heartwarming, joyful, and profound, and to see other storytellers take this story forward is a true joy for me.

The Huffington Post’s take on Generosity Day is on the home page of their Impact section and the lead story of their Good News section, and we have blogs and tweets coming from all directions.  (click here to see it all unfold in real time).

Also a special thanks to all the bloggers out there who have helped spread the word, with a special shout-out to Beth, Brene, Katya, Scott and Seth.

Have a great day!

One day to go – nothing to lose

Generosity Day is tomorrow, and it’s hard not to stare at the #generosityday twitter search results and feel a little bit excited.

At the same time I’m realizing what a tricky thing expectation is.  Last year, when I was hesitating about writing that first (outlandish, crazy) blog post announcing that we wanted to turn Valentine’s Day into Generosity Day, a friend pushed me over the edge by saying, “Go for it!  The worst thing that happens is nothing, and no harm would come of that!”

That’s right.

Great things happen when you realize that no real harm will come from coming up short, but nothing will happen if you don’t try.

It’s possible that a few huge things will happen tomorrow that will catapult Generosity Day into the main- mainstream.  It’s also possible that they won’t and that this will continue to be a grassroots, distributed effort that builds every year without some giant step-change between here and there.

Either way, Generosity Day will always be owned by everybody, for everybody, and we’ve got nothing to lose.

Thanks for being part of it.

Dear Hakiem

Dear Hakiem,

I know everything at the Apple Store is designed to be techno-blissful, but you really took things to another level.  Not only did you shake my hand, make me feel welcome, and help me get a Genius Bar appointment in less than five minutes, but you managed to make me feel just a little bit less bad about dropping my iPad on 6th avenue and cracking the screen (and I was feeling REALLY bad).

I was already appreciative of you for that, but then as I was walking up 9th avenue, you ran out of the store and up to 15th street and stopped me to make sure that my problem had been solved.   Wow.

I bet you go above and beyond every day for folks, and I’m sure they appreciate it more than you know.  I’ll be sure to tell everyone who goes to the Apple Store at 14th and 9th in New York City to look out for you.

Next Tuesday we’re rebooting Valentine’s Day as Generosity Day.  Thank you, already, for being part of it.

Yours in generosity,


Generosity Day – in graphs

It’s been more than two years since my original Generosity Experiment. The experiment was an intuitive, gut reaction to an incongruence I felt between my commitment to creating massive social change, my work with philanthropists to support this mission, and how I saw myself behave in the face of acute need right in front of me.  The “Experiment” was just that: a chance to test what it felt like to live with a totally different orientation.  It was a commitment to take a door that was too closed for my taste and open it wide.

Of course the story spread thanks to Generosity Day last year and my Generosity Experiment talk getting posted on TED, so I’m having (and witnessing) a lot more conversations about generosity and Generosity Day.

One thing I’ve observed is that the powerful original story – of giving to a homeless person when asked – is both helping and hindering my ability to explain what Generosity Day is all about.  To be clear, generosity day is not designed to be a philanthropic strategy (“say yes to everything”). Rather, the whole point is to use the day (the month) to develop a different practice of generosity in our lives – whatever that means to you.

Since I’m a visual thinker, I’ve drawn some graphs to explain what the Generosity Experiment meant in my life.  The red line represents my perceived “ideal” level of generosity (for me).  The blue line represents my perception of how generous I actually am.

In the time leading up to my original Generosity Experiment, two things were happening.  First, because I was spending so much time with philanthropists, I was gaining a deeper understanding of philanthropy and of giving, and part of my reflection was that generosity was more important than I’d understood it to be. That’s why the red line slopes upwards: what I understood to be the “ideal” in terms of generosity was going up.

Second, you’ll notice that the blue line (my perception of how generous I actually am), is sloping down.  That reflects my experience of spending all my time and energy understanding how difficult it is to create social change efforts that really make a difference.  And so, increasingly, I began to feel like more and more things didn’t hit the bar (“what’s the model for sustainability?” “show me your impact numbers!” “what’s your broader theory of change?” etc.), which, practically speaking, meant that I was saying “no” to more and more people/organizations that were asking for my support.

This is what I meant when I said that I felt like what was smart was keeping me from doing what was right.

This next graph represents what happens (could happen) when you conduct a generosity experiment. You choose to be exceptionally generous and open for a period of time.  That experience changes you.  It gives you the opportunity to reflect on old habits and consider whether they’re still serving you well.   Of course the experiment eventually ends, and you revert to “regular life,” but if the experiment changed you in some significant way, then you reset to a “new normal” of generosity (again, whatever that means to you) – in the graph, that’s why the blue line stays above the red line after the Generosity Experiment.

To you psychoanalytically-minded folks out there, a generosity experiment is a tiny undertaking in cognitive behavioral therapy.  For those on the more spiritual end of the spectrum, it is like a yoga or a meditation practice – a chance, in a controlled environment for a defined period of time to practice acting differently so that, over time, new practices pervade your life.

Of course the big question is: what happens in just one day?  Does it touch peoples’ hearts enough to create a little shift?  Are enough people touched by millions of acts of generosity that they’re changed as well?  And if we can create a shift for millions of people, will that create a massive change?  I think it will.

Outside of revealing what an incredible analytical dork I am, I hope this post can help broaden the conversation – your conversation – about generosity day.

Generosity Day – the video

When we got our Generosity Day planning group together last summer, there was a strong vote that the principles of generosity needed to pervade all our actions and our execution.

At the same time, we wanted a snappy, beautiful video that told the story of Generosity Day.

Awesome video + free = pretty hard to come by, it turns out.

Then we met the folks at See3 Communications and it was a match made in heaven.  See3 is where causes go to tell their story better.  They’re a Chicago-based company specializing in video, web development, and internet marketing for nonprofits and social causes.  Not only did they made our fabulous Generosity Day video for free, but they were an absolute pleasure to work with and did everything incredibly quickly and with literally no bumps in the road.

To Michael, Danny and Stacy at See3, thank you!!!  And if you’d like to see more of See3’s work, sign up for the Daily DoGooder here.

Please share the video far and wide!  For example, for Facebook/Twitter:

Curious about Generosity Day next Tuesday? Watch this fun one-minute video

The gift economy and commerce

In biblical times, money was treated in radically different ways depending on whether you were dealing with someone inside or outside the tribe.  For example:

To a foreigner you may charge interest, but to your brother you shall not charge interest.

– Deuteronomy 23:19,20

Within the tribe, it was forbidden to make money on money you gave to someone (this is the genesis of usury laws).  It was known and understood that what mattered was the collective wealth and well-being of the tribe, and so there were established norms and expectations around the giving and receiving of gifts.  It was known that as a recipient of a gift it was your job to return what was given to you or its equivalent, whether to the person who gave to you or to the next person in the tribe who had a need.  This is how the needs of the members of the tribe were addressed. Gifts flowed in a circular fashion.

Outside the tribe, on the other hand, all bets were off.  You could lend, charge interest, even ask for a goat as collateral if this would help ensure payment.

I visualize it like this: within the circle, we have the gift economy; outside of the circle we have commerce.

Without judging what is good and bad here – indeed without commerce where would we be as a world? – it’s simple to observe that, year after year and century after century, the purview of commerce has gotten broader and the space for the gift economy has shrunken:

What was once the tribe became the extended family became, at least in the West today, the nuclear family.  Community ties weaken, religious ties weaken as many (but certainly not all) parts of the world become more secular, and the gift economy, the economy where generosity and helping first and asking questions later, gets whittled down so much that it’s just a speck in an ocean of commerce.

The irony of course is that, thanks to the amazing power of commerce, we’re wealthier than we’ve ever been.

Which means we have a choice.   Our first, most obvious option is to separate more and to insulate.  We can shop online and hide from the world; we can only associate with people who (socially, economically, politically) are just like us.  We can have Google and Facebook give us search results and friend feeds that systematically reinforce our beliefs.  Indeed there’s a great gravitational pull in this direction.

Our other option, the one that’s been nagging at us and sneaking up on us oh-so-quietly, is to recognize that what we desire most of all is to connect with others, to break down barriers and rip out the insulation, to experience the world and people and one another in a fuller, richer way, and to use our own wealth to heal the world.

The success of Generosity Day this year and, I’m hoping, in years to come is proof of the hunger for the second path, the one that leads to openness and connection, the one that allows us to take all our wealth and power and opportunity and build a different world, one in which we use our great capacity for change and for wealth creation to help one another.

In the end both paths will have to co-exist, but the false promise that’s being served up is that the first path alone will be enough.  It won’t.

Generosity Day 2012 – the visual

Had a great planning meeting this week for Generosity Day 2012.  We had our original group that hatched the plan (Katya Andresen, Scott Case, Ellen McGirt) plus a few new friends who you’ll get to know soon enough.

I won’t go into too much now, except to share the Wordle of the principles that we feel underpin Generosity Day, and to say that, YES we’re doing it again in 2012.

This is just a first draft.  Ideas welcome.