How to Be Generous Without Going Broke

Entrepreneur in Residence Diana Henderson finds a balance.

From Diana: As leaders, one of the greatest legacies we leave behind is generosity. It can be displayed in many forms of currency: finances, time, tangible gifts, advice and the list goes on. While financial generosity is probably the most commonly considered form, it’s certainly not the only, and oftentimes, not the most impactful. Regardless of the form of generosity, there’s one common characteristic—it leaves an impression. In today’s fast-paced climate with imbalanced resources, you can easily “go broke” in your attempt to be generous. I speak from personal experience, specifically in the realm of generosity with my time.

So how do you demonstrate generosity without operating at a loss? Here are a few rules of engagement to consider:

Make sacrifices

My definition of generosity is demonstrating kindness through abundance—and that doesn’t always mean excess. In fact, you may have the greatest impact where you feel you possess the least. Being generous comes at a cost or, in other words, with a sacrifice. When you give something valuable to you that may not exist in surplus, you’ve demonstrated generosity. That might mean spending your lunch break with someone who needs a little care vs. extra time to get things crossed of your to-do list. The impact may just be more than can be measured.

Give with the right intention

Many of us grew up with an understanding of what it means to use manners. Today, you wouldn’t dream of accepting an opened door without returning a humble “thank you.” I’ve now challenged myself to give truly without an expectation of anything in return. For me, that takes the emphasis away from my expectation in giving and places it on the motive for giving—to give. When there’s no debt to pay for the exchange of generosity, the feeling is rich, not broke. John Bunyan, a journalist and minister from the 17th century, said, “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

Offer what’s needed, not just what’s there

True generosity blesses the beneficiary’s need, not the giver’s want. Meaning, if someone is in need of advice, a stack of bucks may not fit the bill (literally). Quite frankly, you may save some unnecessary expended resources by asking the simple question: “How can I help you?” The question alone is worth its weight in gold.

Outsource generosity

I’ve been guilty of jumping into a situation to help because I feel like I can, only to realize that I’ve robbed someone else of the opportunity to experience being generous. Try using your network to source a solution for someone. For instance, if someone is seeking guidance about making a career change, instead of rushing to their rescue, connect them with someone you know that would benefit from lending a helping hand. Your intentional response created two beneficiaries instead of one—brilliant!

Go with your gut

Whatever fuels your intuition—a spiritual guidance, a feeling, a sign—go with it. If you feel compelled to give (again, not just of your finances, but time and other resources), then do so. If you feel any reservation, it’s likely not a cause matched to where you’re intended to have an impact. The best way to go broke in your generosity is to reactively give without listening to your instinct. You’ll end up overspending and feel lousy for it. Instead, pause, listen and act on the lead and it will carry great significance to the recipient of your generosity.

Spur a snowball effect

It happens more than ever that people refrain from giving because they feel like their minor contribution won’t amount to impact. That’s flat-out false. Every contribution equates to value and is an opportunity to make a difference. Little effort can mean much to someone. Generosity is also contagious. Your contribution spurs that of others, then others and so on, and, before long, it translates to great significance. It’s hard to go broke with compounding interest.

For more from Diana, read her recent columns on our site or visit her online at DianaHendersonConsult.com.

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