About two years ago, I gave myself permission to impulsively buy art at a nonprofit event. Normally, I tightly control my giving, but this was a moment where I was able to be spontaneous – only because I had created formal intentions around my giving. Yes, I had planned how to be spontaneous. Yikes. Today, I think I blew it.
The Whole Foods cashier couldn’t get past my tight control. “Sir, would you like to round up your purchase to an even $10 by donating 7 pennies to helping the Whole Kids Foundation?” “No” I barked. This should have been the perfect win-win merger: my OCD tendencies (a clean $10 instead of $9.93) and an insanely modest random act of kindness. Yet, my stubborn addiction to being in full control of my charitable giving defeated the spontaneous giver in me.
This type of charitable donation is known as “embedded giving.” It’s fascinating to me for its ability to disrupt a person’s pattern of planning out their giving so that there is some other benefit to the donor (tax deduction, rubbing elbows with celebrities, recognition by peers, etc.). There’s a good reason why charity auction emcees raise a huge portion of their donations when people get to raise their auction paddles. Our peers are watching. If a little peer pressure pushes us to give more of our income, I’m all for it.
At a store register, however, giving a few pennies to charity means you have absolutely no public recognition, no thank-you letters, and no calls from a development committee. At best, you get a quick thanks and a smile from a clerk who is most likely asking hundreds of people per day for those same pennies. But, those pennies can add up to millions of dollars. With the Whole Foods Foundation, it’s creating better nutrition habits for thousands of kids.
Don’t get me wrong. I will continue to focus on charitable giving that is premeditated and in clear view of my peers. To balance things out, I am going to see how it feels to give when there is no one watching and there’s no opportunity to rub elbows with Neil Patrick Harris.
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