Random Acts of Kindness

I’ve been reading about a new trend in philanthropy that is very interesting to me, and may be to you as well.  There are various names associated with this trend, including stealth giving, guerilla philanthropy, or just random acts of kindness

I started noticing articles about this late last year. Yahoo ran a “You in?” Campaign with the goal of creating a ripple effect of kindness. They asked viewers to share their stories of kindness to spur friends and associates to do so as well. They reported, “Whether you pay someone’s groceries anonymously or drop off a coat for the homeless, your actions will inspire others around the world to join you.”

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported on an amazing family from Vancouver. In what they referred to as “a guerilla giving” campaign, the  family started to leave small cash gifts in public parks, at bus stops, and in other random places, to be discovered by strangers — an activity that was part scavenger hunt, part social experiment. The anonymous gifts, in the form of bags of $1 coins, included notes signed by G.G. (guerilla giver) that were designed to inspire further philanthropy. Comments recorded on the Guerilla Giver blog, indicate that these random gifts of kindness were so unexpected and impactful that they might be considered be life-changing.

I know many of us offer acts of kindness by being generous with people around us. As example, I will often take friends of my sons to places they wouldn’t normally have the chance to visit, as a way of adding value and meaning to their lives. I have some sense that this will eventually lead to their own acts of compassion and kindheartedness.

I have gone a little beyond that type of generosity as well. On occasions, I have purchased a stranger’s coffee in Starbucks that looked particularly stressed, and once paid for a family’s dinner out after overhearing their conversation about the financial burdens they were facing. While I didn’t ever talk with the strangers I offered “gifts” to, I did watch their faces when they were told their bills were covered. I could tell they were amazed and touched.

I am not sure that these acts were ever life-changing, and I know they weren’t in keeping with my usual strategic giving, but it did feel good to make a difference in someone’s life that day. And who knows, the people I gifted may have done something nice for someone else, who then did something special for another. I suppose this is the most we can ask for – that we might start a chain of kindness, or generosity, that could then spread throughout our communities.

I wonder if the trend will continue, spurring more grassroots philanthropy across the continent? What do you think? Have you ever participated in stealth giving? If so, share your stories.

Warmest regards,

Sharon

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3 Responses to Random Acts of Kindness

  1. jeannembrown says:

    Thanks for writing about this. The town I moved from had a Random Acts of Kindness Day city-wide March 11,2010. Moorpark, CA’s first annual Random Acts of Kindness Day sponsored by the Pay it Forward Club of Moorpark High School was a great success.
    Inspired by Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book, Pay It Forward which turned into the 2000 movie starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment, the club was started to raise money for needy families, local children with life-threatening illness and developmentally disabled youth.

  2. Rebecca Arno says:

    Thanks for this great post, Sharon! I love the idea of guerilla giving, especially in conjunction with or along-side strategic philanthropy. Random acts of kindness can be as easy as relaxing while you’re driving and letting someone merge in front of you or go first at the stop sign. Or they can be as “major” as the legendary drive-by giving that the late Bill Daniels reportedly practiced, where he would read about a family losing everything in a fire, and suddenly an envelope chock-full of cash would show up at their doorstep.

    My question is — can these random acts of kindness build toward something larger — where people give even more to support nonprofits, for instance?

    • Sharon Knight says:

      Hi Rebecca,
      Thanks for your comments. I wonder about guerilla giving leading to more strategic gifts to nonprofits. I would love other people to comment on this, but my first reaction is yes. This is why I think that to be true.
      I believe that once an individual gives an anonymous gift to another person or organization, and begins to get a sense of the impact their money can make, that they will 1) love the fact that their gift really does make a difference 2) start to become aware of the root cause of the problem leading them to make their gift and 3) begin to notice the organizations that are working to eradicate that issue or problem in their community. Most of us DO want to make a difference in the world and I think once we get a taste for creating that difference, it might just be contagious.

      Comments?

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