Gifts v. Generosity: Do people expect a treat for donating?


Toys for Tots, Salvation Army, and Operation Christmas Child… These are just a few of the innumerable charities that help provide gifts and food to the less fortunate people in the U.S. and abroad during the holiday season. So, with Thanksgiving and Christmas quickly approaching, you may have already put together your shoe box of trinkets and hygiene products for OCC or slipped some loose change into the Salvation Army’s donation pail outside of your local grocery store. Things like this are a very common practice because, according to Forbes, approximately 75% of Americans donate money and goods over volunteering their time.

Why is this, though? Many believe this is a generational practice. Unlike the Boomers and Generation Xers who gave back to strengthen their communities, Millennials believe in combining generosity and convenience. For example, they wear Tom’s Shoes because, for each pair bought, a pair is donated to a child in need and they support programs like Box Tops for Education where you can buy your favorite cereal and help a school. So, while they don’t expect material gifts in exchange for donations, it is safe to assume that Millennials enjoy knowing that their small purchase goes toward helping others in a much bigger way.
But it’s about more than that. An article from The Huffington Post pin-points why we, as a collective people, often don’t expect anything in return for a good deed: “Giving generously is a by-product of the profound strength of character that comes from genuine humility. Humble service is one of the most basic ethical tenets in Buddhism, Christianity and many other religious and wisdom traditions.”

There is also a psychology behind this.The human brain is hard-wired to enjoy giving – probably even more than receiving. A group of psychologists from UC-Santa Barbara did a study on gift-giving and generosity by having subjects anonymously compete in a series of situations without knowing who their partner was. The subjects did their best because they weren’t sure who their teammate was, leading the psychologists to conclude that it just makes sense to treat everyone we meet kindly because “Generosity evolves because, at the ultimate level, it is a high-return cooperative strategy…even in the absence of any apparent potential for gain. Human generosity, far from being a thin veneer of cultural conditioning atop a Machiavellian core, may turn out to be a bedrock feature of human nature.”
While this is not typical of everyone and every situation, I think there is something to be learned: we actually receive more when we give to others. Most of us give with the expectation of receiving nothing (materially) in return. And some believe in Paying It Forward, or doing nice things for others in the hope that, one day, they will return the favor to someone else. So, donate to the charity of your choice, put a few extra dollars in the church collection plate, or spend some time at a local nursing home. Whatever you do, do it to help some else and not for the recognition.