Why Giving Matters More Than Receiving

Dec 9, 2014 by

By Allison Fine

A few weeks ago Lisa Colton was facilitating a synagogue board retreat, and asked the participants to pair up and talk about when they felt that they really mattered. The room was abuzz as the participants shared their stories with one another.

When they reconvened she asked, “How many people heard stories about feeling like you matter when you received something?” One person raised their hand.

Then she asked the opposite question, “How many people heard a story about feeling like you mattered when you gave something?”  Forty-four hands went up. 44!

Of course, the old axiom, “It’s better to give than receive,” immediately comes to mind. People want to be of service to one another, and to organizations that they care about.   Moreover, they want to matter to the people and causes that they care about. These observations seem fairly obvious, and yet, so many organizations continue to struggle with the concept of making their people matter.

Here are some obstacles that Jewish institutions face when trying making people matter more:

1) Over professionalization and under-engagement. As organizations have become more professionalized over the last century, it seemed easier, faster, more efficient and less painstaking for staff people to do more and more, for organizations to hire staff people than engage volunteers. Just because volunteers may not be available on Tuesday afternoons anymore doesn’t mean that people don’t want to help in meaningful and creative ways. The job of organizations is to figure out how to reconfigure the work to enable more people to help in more meaningful ways. Are there ways to get more input from participants earlier in processes to shape events/programs/services? How can people leverage their own social networks to reach out to people and personally ask them to attend events? Or give feedback after events? What people can do is almost limitless if we move beyond thinking about volunteer activities as needing to be in person and menial to be controllable.  This is not to say that professionals and expertise aren’t valuable and important.  But when they detract from our goal of engagement and helping people feel that they matter, we have to reexamine the use of professionals to help better achieve our goals.

2) Too many organizations substitute fundraising for engagement. People have so much more to offer in addition to checks.  One of the greatest assets of the social web is that people can support efforts in a variety of ways. This “go-go juice” can be their social networks as mentioned above, their intelligence and ideas, their creativity and empathy.  Too often leaders measure success just by tushes in seats and dollars donated.  And while these are two strong and easily measurable indicators of interest and commitment to the organization, they are not the only ones.  There are so many additional ways to view engagement, and to design for whether or how people feel that they matter to organizations. Are unusual suspects coming to events? Do our members feel that they matter to the community and organization? Are we designing for meaningful connections?  Are we asking good questions rather than coming up with all the answers ourselves?

3) We need openings for giving. In the discussion at that board retreat that Lisa facilitated, people mentioned over and over again how much they wanted to give of themselves to other people. They shared how fulfilling it felt to support a friend with cancer, to nominate someone for an award, or just to give someone a hug in a moment of need. But in order to do these acts of loving kindness, congregants need to know who needs help or support.  Synagogues in particular need to find ways to help congregants in need ask for support, and connect them with those who have support to offer.  In this way, both parties will end up feeling that they matter more, and the synagogue has helped facilitate more matterness. Creating a culture of safety and openness creates opportunities for giving and receiving.  It creates a culture of matterness.

It takes a lot of effort to reverse the easy slide into anti-matterness, to quiet all of the internal noise saying that it is difficult and time consuming and dangerous to spend too much time interacting with people outside. But just because it is hard, doesn’t mean it isn’t possible or important. In the end, smart, generous, uncontrollable people matter the most, and they’re just waiting to be asked to help in meaningful ways.  How are you as a leader helping to create opportunities for more people to feel that they matter?


Allison Fine is among the pre-eminent guides to the social media revolution, as well as the past president of her synagogue, Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, NY. Her gift is for converting uncertainty over rapid change into excitement over remaking organizations by the least expensive and most profitable means available: connecting with others. She is author of Matterness: What Fearless Leaders Know About the Power and Promise of Social Media, the award-winning Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, and co-author of the bestselling The Networked Nonprofit.  



Share This

Leave a Reply