There is a euphoric high when you touch a life, when you donate your time, when you share what you can with whom you want and expect nothing in return. By giving to a cause you care deeply about, you always receive more than the person on the other side of the gift.
How do I know? For the past 15 years, I’ve been running The Morgridge Family Foundation, making investments that transform communities through education, conservation, the arts, and health and wellness—and we always get back more joy than we give. Why? Because we give out of passion, not guilt or obligation. That feeling, that connection, is what makes giving feel good.
In my book Every Gift Matters, I hone in on the fact that every person and every gift can make a difference. Whoever you are, no matter how much or how little you have, your gift matters. The smallest, seemingly unimportant, donation can transform a life. And the best news is that giving transforms two lives: the one who receives and the one who gives.
So whether you are volunteering your time or donating small or large amounts, here are three surprises that giving brings to you, the giver:
1. A sense of joy and purpose
While volunteering this year at a United Way Toys for Tots drive, I got to meet the families who were in need. I got to listen to their stories, hear about their kids, and then send them home with a car full of toys and food. I was not the major donor of the event, nor was I an event coordinator—I merely showed up for my scheduled shift and was immediately blown away by the impact that the event had on me.
I understood why the same volunteers had been showing up year after year to help over 3,000 families. I admired the students who volunteered next to me, as they quickly understood how they were giving back to their own communities. The only regret I had about sharing my day with these families was that I hadn’t found the organization earlier in my life.
The incredible sense of joy and purpose that comes from giving never ceases to amaze me. Find a cause that brings you joy, and then invite your friends. They are looking for the same thing you are—fulfillment in giving—and most people just need to be asked. If you are being asked to join a friend, make today a yes day. Your life might never be the same.
2. A greater connection to your community
Our foundation has always believed that you must take care of your own community first. So when we recently moved to Stuart, Florida, we went to the local United Way and asked them to identify the needs in our area and introduce us to some of the leaders who were making an impact. The conversation led us to a site visit at House of Hope, a food pantry that uses hunger as a hook to get people in the door. Once a person is there, the house immediately sits them down to talk about why they are hungry, and if there is anything they can do to help you get back on a better path—whether that’s looking at a new career or job skills training.
Why is this so important? When we wrap around services up front to families that are willing and able, we not only lift up the person and the family, we lift up our own community, too. A small amount invested in a family will save thousands of dollars of social service needs once they become self-sustaining.
When you take care of your own backyard, you’ll have a much greater sense of connection to your neighbors. So seek out food banks or soup kitchens in your community that provide services beyond the meals, ones that seek to fight poverty. Whether you have a little or a lot to give, helping your neighbors help themselves is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.
3. New ideas—on how to solve the problems you care about
One of the best grants we ever gave was to a food bank, Second Harvest of Orlando, Florida. The return on our investment came not just from the immediate impact on the recipients of the gift, but from the innovative lessons we learned about ways to address hunger—lessons we can now apply to other projects.
At the time, our family lived in Orlando, and I had met with a group of leaders who were pitching our foundation on how to help the hunger problem in the area. It was a significant issue, especially given that one in four who are hungry in that city are under the age of 5. Since our foundation had been funding projects in this particular sector, we knew the issues and the programs pretty well. All the pitches were fairly standard—except for Second Harvest. It had identified that the food stamp office, where people went to sign up for benefits, was not on the bus line—which meant an awful trek for a family down on their luck. They often had to take three or four buses and walk up to five miles just to get to the office, which required many to take the day off of work.
Second Harvest’s idea was to flip the strategy. They wanted to hire five “rovers” who could respond to the families in need and sign them up at their home, eliminating the need for the families to travel to the office. The rovers had portable fax machines in their cars and a direct line to the desk in Orlando for immediate processing, since they had done all the pre-work for the officers. The results were profound. Not only did the program immediately create five new rover jobs, but within a few years, Second Harvest generated 10,000 applications, resulting in $18 million worth of benefits—a huge milestone. This organization’s keen ability to think outside the box not only made a huge impact on the issue at hand, but it gave us new ideas about how to apply their innovative thinking and solutions to other problems we are tackling.
If you stay laser-focused on your mission in giving back, you’ll not only make a difference, but your own return will be immense. I know that our money can’t save everyone, but for the people we do touch, their lives are forever changed. That is something I can live with, and you should, too, because every gift matters.
Carrie Morgridge is vice president of The Morgridge Family Foundation—which makes investments that transform communities through education, conservation, the arts, and health and wellness—and author of Every Gift Matters: How Your Passion Can Change the World.