Don’t Give Too Much, Don’t Give Too Little—How to Find the Sweet Spot of Giving Back

giving back

When you think of what being a better person means, I’m guessing that being charitable and giving to others is one of the first things that pops to mind.

Giving to others is about more than being virtuous—it’s about caring more, believing in your power to do good, and creating positive changes in your community and in the world at large. The funny paradox about giving is that it feels really good to help others, and those good feelings help energize you in all parts of your life. And when your energy gets raised, you help the people around you raise their game and their energy too.

All that being said, there are two pitfalls to giving back that can make it seem draining instead of energizing:

  • The phrase “giving back” makes it seem like you took something and now you need to make up for it. You didn’t take anything! Giving and receiving are both positive, natural forces—the more you do of one, the more you invite the other, and vice versa. You don’t want to give out of guilt because you have more than someone else. You want to give out of pure generosity, of sharing the love, of acting on the truth that we are all connected and there is plenty for everyone to have what they need (which also helps with that feeling that if you give too much you might threaten your own wellbeing, financial or otherwise).
  • If you go into giving without getting some clarity around your intentions and whether the opportunity to give is a good match for your talents and current situation, you can quickly feel over-extended and unappreciated—and that isn’t good for anyone, not the people you were trying to help, and certainly not you.

In this blog, I’m sharing a few tips from the “give back” chapter in my book How to Be a Better Person to help you find ways to help others that suit you perfectly and that don’t require you to overextend yourself, all while having a big impact. (There are 45 others in the book!)

Choose your causes
It can be overwhelming to decide how to get involved in giving your time, money, or energy. To narrow your choices and find a good match, consider what you care most about. Boil it down to one or two (no more than three!) causes that move you the most and focus your efforts there. No one person can give as much as is needed to everyone who needs it, so let go of any guilt of not helping more. You don’t need to do it all, you just need to do your part. If we all did that, the impact would be huge.

Use a giving mantra
When in doubt about how to give back, make it your mantra to be of service. You’re not looking for the “right” thing to do—it’s easy to get stuck in trying to figure out what the exact right thing is. Look for the helpful thing. It helps shift your attention away from feeling like there’s nothing that could possibly help, or feeling upset that there’s so much that needs to be done. If you aren’t sure what would be useful, ask, “How can I be of help?”

Look for the quick hit
A common—and sensible—reason for not doing more to give back is not having the time. But not everything requires hours. It only takes a minute to buy an extra jar of peanut butter for the food drive at your child’s school, for example, to drop off a bag of books you no longer read to the local library, or to patronize a store that donates a percentage of its profits. Every little thing you do counts.

Give more without giving too much
It’s perfectly okay to pitch in at a level that makes sense for you—there are no bonus points for giving till it hurts. If the PTA requires too much of a time commitment, can you share your position or role with another person? If you only have a limited budget for donating, can you make it during a matching grant to make your dollars go further? Or if you can’t make the event, can you share a post on Facebook asking for volunteers? When you find ways to give back that feel good to you, you’ll find more ways to do it.

Here is more food for thought on giving that I wrote about in past newsletters

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