The Motherhood Model of Giving: Small Change Makes A Big Difference

By John McNeel in Blog, General
May 11, 2020 04:00

At in/PACT, the vision that guides us is all about "Growing the World's Heart."  Although this may sound like simply a poetic set of words, it's a mantra grounded in a hard truth. When you look at the economic value of generosity (the aggregate total of how much people give back to their communities), it hasn't grown in more than 30 years.

Another way to say this is that the "share of wallet" that is dedicated to our most purposeful expense, charitable giving, is stagnating as a percentage of our total volume of spending. Yes, the world gives back more and more every year -- more than $400 billion in the US alone last year -- but as a percentage of GDP it hasn't budged.

So for us, to "grow the world's heart" means encouraging more giving, to more causes, more often, by more people. If we can shift the "share of generosity" by just 1% it will mean literally billions more going to the homeless and to the hungry, to the sick and to the needy, to the disenfranchised and to the underserved. And also towards the hundreds of thousands of people who have dedicated their lives to helping those most in need.

The secret? Make the purposeful gesture of giving a better, more fulfilling and more regular occurrence. Sadly, today the vast majority of charitable gifts are one time, ad hoc and mostly transactional. Recurring donations -- that every day, every week or every month gesture -- will make literally all the difference in the world.

The Motherhood Model of Giving

Five years, ago, shortly after I co-founded in/PACT with my partners Ammar Charani and Jim Stengel, I wrote a piece about Mother's Day on this very theme. It was about how the way we give in the modern world is kind of like the way we celebrate our Moms, once a year, instead of the way our Moms love us, every second of every day.

Here's what I wrote:

Much of our philanthropy seems to work according to what you could call the "Mother's Day model": we designate a date on the calendar and, in a display of concentrated generosity, we give to a cause or nonprofit that actually does matter to us, but which we are then able to conveniently tuck into the back of our minds for the rest of the year because, well, "I've already given."

The limitations of this model can be found in the power of motherhood itself.

Let's suppose for an instant that Mother's Day -- instead of being the day for us to show our love for her -- was the day designated for Moms everywhere to show their love for us. On that one day of the year, and that day only, they could smother us with hugs and kisses and give us small gifts, then go back to other stuff, because, well, "Mommy's already given."

By definition, motherhood is the aggregate of millions of acts of giving and acts of love. Day in, day out, from birth to death, mothers are mothers because of their unconditional displays of generosity, repeated time and time again. Each act, in isolation, might not add up to much. But each loving gesture, each word of comfort, each act of support, are what make her a mother. 

It's time for philanthropy to move beyond the Mother's Day model and adopt the motherhood model. It's time to recognize the power of millions of small acts of generosity to change the world. And it's time to accept that the ripple effect is real and that, collectively, people can change the world if each one of us, every day, made a commitment to make a difference, no matter how small.

More Than Ever, The World Needs Generosity

Today, we're living through one of the most unprecedented and devastating crises the world has ever seen -- and how the world responds in the coming weeks, months and years will be a definitional moment for humanity. Can we collectively rise to the challenge of channeling our generosity to repair and heal the wounds the world has suffered?

At in/PACT, we help businesses and brands respond to moments like Covid-19, and other moments and events throughout the year... but behind those businesses and brands there are people. People who build and promote those businesses and brands, and people who buy them, love them or in some cases depend upon them.

We have committed ourselves to try to make the moments of giving we create for our clients very much like motherhood rather than Mother's Day. To make the act of helping our communities not only easier but more fulfilling, more immersive and more rewarding. And above all, to gently encourage the generous souls among us to give more often. To make our gifts recurring instead of one time only.

So on this Mother's Day, let's all have a thought about motherhood and the transformative power of generosity and love. And let's commit to give back, every day.