1-on-1: Harvey McKinnon on Giving Back

Harvey McKinnon is the founder of Harvey McKinnon Associates, a consulting company specializing in fundraising and relationship building for the nonprofit community. Recognized as one of North America’s leading fundraising experts, he is also a speaker and co-author of the best-selling The Power of Giving: How Giving Back Enriches Us All. He’s the author of Hidden Gold, Tiny Essentials to Committed Monthly Giving and The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave. In addition, McKinnon is the producer of award-winning documentaries, two best-selling training videos and an audio CD titled How Today’s Rich Give.

SUCCESS: First, let’s touch on how everyone can give back, even people watching their budgets. Harvey McKinnon: I believe everyone has something to offer, and it doesn’t have to be money. It doesn’t have to be time, although they are both great gifts. It could be as simple as lending a sympathetic ear to a friend in need; it could be showing kindness to a stranger. I think that’s contagious. When you are kind to someone, that person is more likely to be kind to someone else. When you are cruel to someone, that person is more likely to be cruel to someone else. You can make those decisions every day. I am not saying they are always easy, but they are important to make. My ideal is that people will match the skills and interests they have with those who need the help. One of the things I actually believe in is, if you give the things you need the most, you will often get them back.

So is that what you mean when you say that giving benefits the giver? HM: There is great scientific research thanks to brain scans. When people give to others, it makes them feel better. Human beings are hard-wired to give. And people who exhibit a high level of altruism, researchers can measure that and show that they have a much greater release of endorphins. And when you release endorphins, it builds your immune system. Research shows it can boost recovery from surgery and help you sleep better. There is a great British survey of volunteers where half claimed their health started to improve since they began volunteering. And 20 percent claimed they lost weight, too. It’s really study after study. There’s a wonderful book by Stephen Post and Jill Niemark, Why Good Things Happen to Good People, and they’ve got tons of multimillion-dollar university research studies showing all the benefits of kindness and giving.

You contend that giving back can help people financially. How so? HM: People who have a really good attitude about business know that if they run the business to serve other people, financial benefits will come. When you are focused on yourself, people are not nearly as interested. When I have experienced kindness and generosity from businesses, it makes me want to support them. Businesses that have integrity make me want to support them. And I know there are tens of millions of people like me out there. People who do incredibly well aren’t just trying to sell the service or the product; they offer service and value. That is a giving mentality, and it works.

Can you talk a little more about “a giving mentality”? HM: Giving back enables us to reach our potential. When people give to others, they become more emotionally connected to other human beings. As a result, they are more positive in their lives. Robert D. Putnam wrote a great book called Bowling Alone. It showed that people who are connected to other people—and giving is a core component of that—are more likely to be employed, get better jobs, feel less depressed and succeed more in life because of those connections.

We all want to help our friends, help people who are kind and generous as opposed to the opposite. When we are focused on other people, our own problems are minimized. Research shows people who bemoan their own lives, and then decide to help someone else, really personally benefit because it takes away from what’s going on in their minds. People I know who have given more over the years tend to be happier.

Why do you think they’re happier? HM: Giving back reduces fears. I think we feel more connected to other people, and that is the key. If you are living on your own and you aren’t connected to many people, you are more isolated and you are probably watching more TV. People who watch a lot of television overestimate the threats to their well-being because television focuses on news that makes the world seem like a more dangerous place than it actually is. People have fears of not being loved, not having money, fear of violence. On some level, these are legitimate fears.

But the more you are involved and connected with other people, those fears diminish. If you are a volunteer at a church group and you lose your job, the people who work around you are probably going to want to help you find a new job because you have been a kind, great volunteer and they know your skills. People help other people when they see them doing good things.

I read that you believe giving back can help people learn about their unique gifts. How so? HM: Well, they tend to learn in a couple of different ways. Hey, I am really good at this, and it’s quite rewarding, and I am getting a lot of good feedback because I organized this volunteer event for this charity. I have seen the people it has helped and it makes me feel really good. The second thing is they learn things about themselves. It could be: You know what? I think I need to be more sensitive to these issues. It could be: I didn’t know anything about racism or sexism and I didn’t know how people who are actually homeless really feel until I started working at the food bank and I learned lots. All of us have many things to learn, and we tend to hang out with people like ourselves.

But when we are exposed to people with different backgrounds— whether it’s financial or cultural—there are so many different things to learn, and we learn about ourselves as well.

So true. Lastly, how does gratitude play a role in giving back? HM: I have had the privilege of traveling to many developing nations where there is unbelievable poverty, but there is often a kindness and generosity of spirit that you sadly don’t see in lots of people here, who have so much more going for them. Most of us forget how many things we have to be grateful for. If you are born in North America, you have won the lottery, really

Read more from this interview with Harvey McKinnon in this web exclusive.


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