The joy of generosity that fuels effective giving


Paul Penley

Paul Penley

Paul Penley

Do you still enjoy your giving? In a world of professional philanthropy conferences, philanthropy journals and ‘giving gone wrong’ headlines, giving can become one more skill to master, or task to manage. My daily research into the performance and impact of grantees has the real potential to strip away the joy of generosity. It can become all head and no heart. Site visits can feel like audits. Grant impact reports can relieve the worry of wasting gifts rather than excite you about the difference the gift has made.

On the one hand, you may wonder if it really matters. If you are researching non-profit best practices, assessing annual results and networking with other funders to participate in collaborative projects, doesn’t your work pay off no matter how you feel? If you’ve found well-managed, strategic charities to support, won’t your giving make a difference whether or not you enjoy the process? Shouldn’t we after all rise above our personal feelings and press on to the nobler pursuit of objectively bettering our world?

If we were machines and not humans, I’d say ‘yes’. But I have seen too many givers run out of interest in their own giving. I’ve seen charitable donations turn into philanthropic bills. I’ve met foundation staff who are looking for new strategies just because the old one is too familiar. I’ve seen non-profit analysts and philanthropic advisors rest on the laurels of old research because they didnt have the passion to stay up-to-date. If you lose the personal joy of seeing lives changed from your good giving decisions, you’ll lose the feelings that fuel perseverance and informed philanthropy.

So how do you avoid running out of motivation to give effectively? In short, experience the impact and enjoy the process.

We recently advised a family to fund a culinary arts job training program at a rescue mission. The program design includes baking cupcakes and selling them via the All Things Sweet cupcake truck (pictured below) in the city of Orlando. We are big fans of social enterprises that improve lives while creating revenue to sustain the program. So the family made a big investment in culinary arts and cupcakes, just like our other clients have made in Zambian strawberry farms, Kenyan tea fields and Guatemalan soccer fields that all create revenue to help vulnerable children.

When we met with the family a few weeks ago, we didn’t just report the number of rescue mission residents in training and the completion date for the kitchen and cupcake truck. We also had a leader and a participant in the program drive the new cupcake truck over to our meeting location. We had fun eating gourmet cupcakes and meeting people who had gone from homeless to highly skilled in a matter of months. The program is working, and our personal experience that day was invigorating.

That’s a paradigm we recommend. Fund your cupcake-selling social enterprise and eat a few sweets too. Build a soccer complex to redirect would-be gang members in Guatemala City, and go play with them on the field too. Invest in strawberry farms that fund orphan care in Zambia and then eat the delicious fruit harvest with local ladies who are able to care for their own children from jobs on the farm. Donate the purchase price of a tea field and drink a hot cup with children fed from its profits.

Strategic and informed giving can be filled with joy. And it must be full of joy to fuel your continued involvement. That joy of generosity does not move your heart away from giving with discernment. The moments of deep personal satisfaction actually motivate you to get it right so you can enjoy it well.

Paul Penley is director of research at the philanthropic advisory firm Excellence in Giving and creator of

Tagged in: Impact Joy of giving Motivation Passion social enterprise Strategic giving

Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *