On the Importance and Value of Generosity

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What is generosity? The University of Notre Dame's Science of Generosity Initiative defines generosity as thevirtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly. The definition is further articulated in greater depth as follows:

  • Generosity is a learned character trait that involves both attitude and action -- entailing as a virtue both an inclination or predilection to give liberally and an actual practice of giving liberally.
  • Generosity also involves giving to others not simply anything in abundance but rather giving those things that are good for others. Generosity always intends to enhance the true wellbeing of those to whom it gives.
  • What exactly generosity gives can be various things: money, possessions, time, attention, aid, encouragement, emotional availability and more.
  • Generosity, to be clear, is not identical to pure altruism, since people can be authentically generous in part for reasons that serve their own interests as well as those of others. Indeed, insofar as generosity is a virtue, to practice it for the good of others also necessarily means that doing so achieves one's own true, long-term good as well.

The key points here are that generosity is more than about money and being generous is usually a win-win where both sides gain.

Generosity and Life

A CEO shared a story about how a poor family of immigrants stopped to help someone who had a flat tire in bad weather. After the tire was changed, the individual offered money to the family. They turned it down saying, "Today it was you. Tomorrow it might be us."

Sooner or later, everybody finds themselves needing help and depending on acts of generosity. It might be some form of aid, guidance, a person to talk to who will listen, a leg-up or sometimes gently delivered, difficult to hear advice.

By being there and helping when someone is in need ensures good "karma." If what goes around comes around it may make sense to send good stuff people's way.

Generosity and Emotional Well-Being

Generosity enables greater human connection, a sense of community and a higher social standing. Several research projects have indicated that helping others has significant benefits, from making your body "glow" to reduced stress and anxiety and a longer life!

Importantly, generosity is not about wealth. A number of studies indicate that those less well-off tend to be more generous with their resources than those with resources, often giving their time and energy and often even money from their constrained budgets. Being more exposed to the challenges of limited resources, they may be more compassionate.

Generosity, compassion and empathy are three emotional states that are deeply inter-connected.

Generosity as a Strategy

If strategy is future competitive advantage, generosity is smart for individual or company strategies.

Generosity builds good will which is both an asset and a moat. It is an asset in that it can be tapped in the future. It is a moat because when an individual or a company has been generous in times of trouble their employees or customers are less likely to switch to a different firm for a lower price or higher pay.

Generosity is also a key differentiator in that usually when a person or firm needs help there are few people willing to help someone out of power or in trouble. Those individuals and brands who do help stand out and their showing up and helping when others are not burns into the emotional and mental memory of the recipient.

Emotional connections are harder to sever or replace than financial connections.

Generosity and Modern Marketing

We are at the dawn of a new era of re-invented marketingwhere brands are increasingly differentiated through experience,purposeand employee joy.

One way a brand delivers a great experience is when it surprises you with generosity. Last week's post (Tattoo)resulted in many people sharing stories of how a brand or company's generosity made a lifelong impact. Here's one:

"Long ago, must be 30 years ago or more, I went into Tiffany's to purchase one cufflink.
The night before I had attended a black-tie event and one cufflink must have worked itself free (it was the solid type, and was difficult to get on and off), and I lost it off my sleeve. Just wasn't there when I got home.
I said to the counter person that I just wanted to buy one cufflink to match the other one. 
She left. She returned with the typical Tiffany's blue box with the white ribbon. "Here you go ... no charge," she said.
I couldn't believe it.
You must be -- at least -- the 400th person I have told this story to."

Brands today cannot succeed unless their employees are happy. It is the employees who after all provide the service to customers and clients. It is the employees who generate the ideas and solve the problems. It is often the employees who are most believed and can be the greatest ambassadors and advocates of a brand. Often employees are far more authentic ambassadors than a celebrity that companies give tens of millions to. Why not be generous in care, money and attention to employees?

The CEO of the company where I spent my full-time working career recently awarded many tens of millions of dollars in bonuses to thousands and thousands of employees who were not eligible or expecting such largesse. The impact of that generosity has been very significant and builds on many other acts of generosity of care and attention through the very difficult circumstances that people have had to deal with due to the tragedy of COVID-19.

Culture is not just a place or a history but a way of being and behaving. Great cultures always have some form of generosity whether it is compensation, benefits, forgiveness of mistakes that encourage risk-taking and more.

Generosity is a key to brand experiences and brand employees, but it is also a cornerstone of brands' purpose-driven marketing. Smart companies recognize that purpose ensures not just attraction and retention of talent but also that ESG, DEI and other initiatives truly help the company economically.

Generously helping community, environment and others helps the brand. Stake-holder capitalism usually helps stockholders when balanced and managed well.

Be Generous

Generosity is aligned with life and happiness. It is strategic and a key to the future of marketing. It scales by helping you build a reputation.

Talent wants to collaborate with talent that gives versus talent that takes. As we move to the Third Connected Age of the Internet with open web and DAOs (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations) generosity will be a key edge and signal that attracts collaborators and unlocks opportunities.

Being generous reminds us that a zero-sum, transactional, closed mindset makes little sense in a world driven by abundance, relationships and openness. And it makes us feel big regardless of how small or junior or resource-constrained we might be.

Finally, it aligns with one's self-interest because when you give you often get back much more than you gave. The generous thrive both in the short and long run.

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