Redefining giving: "10 Ways to Do Good" emerge in today's culture

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Our research project to discover the contemporary philanthropic mindset began in earnest almost seven years ago. We had no idea that we were on the verge of uncovering such pervasive cultural trends in our society. No longer is giving to charities the only way people “do good”; indeed, the entire spectrum of social impact activities has given way to a brand new approach to “giving” as part of our lifestyles.

Early in our research, we were hooked on the well-documented positive effects of charitable giving and wanted to know more. We wanted to understand the experience of charitable giving from the broadest point of view possible to discover human behaviors and emotions that extended beyond the act of writing a check and into the well-rounded lives of the people we were interviewing.

So we asked about giving this way: “What are your favorite ways to do good for others?”

Wow! Little did we know that question would wind up being the single most important factor in our multi-year research study involving thousands of interviews with executives, human resources professionals, community engagement experts, donors to charities, civic leaders, teachers, mothers, fathers, children, and just about anyone who would talk to us.

By changing the subject of our questions from the traditional “writing checks to charities” to “giving and doing good,” a whole new paradigm emerged.

First, the people we interviewed wondered what “counted” as doing good; for example, did being on a school fundraising committee count if they weren’t the head of it? Lots of people commented that they loved celebrating at charity events and thought that should count as making a difference. We heard about marketing favorite causes on Facebook. We heard about people cleaning out their closets and donating clothes to a homeless shelter.

We heard many, many good things.

We also heard one message loud and clear: People are doing good in a variety of ways--not only writing checks to charities--and they want to feel even better about it.

From the very first interview in our research, it was overwhelmingly clear that giving to charities was not the only philanthropic activity going on in the day-to-day lives of real people. Giving turned out to be just one of ten “social impact” behaviors regularly practiced and enjoyed by the people in our study.

Through our hundreds of interviews and experiments in real-life situations, we observed and documented the contemporary point of view that philanthropy embraces the full range of social impact behaviors:

  1. Caring about health and wellness
  2. Giving to charities
  3. Volunteering at a charity
  4. Serving on a charity’s board of directors
  5. Purchasing products that support a cause
  6. Recycling and respecting a sustainable environment
  7. Donating items of food and clothing
  8. Marketing a favorite charity
  9. Sharing with family and friends in need
  10. Celebrating at community events

We call these activities the “10 Ways to Do Good.” We started out talking about one activity—giving—and it turned into more than three years exploring nine additional activities. One plus nine equals, you got it, the 10 Ways to Do Good.

People loved the 10 Ways to Do Good. They loved talking about them. When they did, they were happy and authentic and confident and empowered and full of optimism and possibility. We knew we were onto something.

Today, we continue to be inspired by so many visionary leaders in philanthropy, healthcare, financial services, and retail who are actively incorporating social impact principles into their work to redefine giving. The work-life-community-wellness mindset of today’s culture is something everyone can celebrate.