30 days at a time

The Giving Project: Could you find the heart to give something away every single day?

The Giving Project: Could you find the heart to give something away every single day?

I’ve always been one of those people they call “serial volunteers.” When I’m asked for help or a monetary donation from one of my favorite nonprofits or a cause I’m particularly passionate about, the word “no” cannot seem to pass my lips.

That’s why the idea of the Giving Project started flitting across my mind last year. My thought was to spend an entire year giving something every day, and blogging about the experience. I was inspired by people I’d read about such as Reed Sandridge, who lost his job at a nonprofit organization in late 2009, but had an unusual reaction to his sudden lack of employment. Sandridge decided to dedicate 2010 to giving away $10 every day, to someone who looked as if he or she could use it.

I couldn’t help but wonder, if an unemployed guy could do it, why can’t we all? It reiterated the constant findings that people who have the least, give the most in terms of percentage of their income. The New York Times calls it the “compassion deficit.”

As 2011 began, I ended up morphing my Giving Project into a bigger experiment. I decided to implement a new practice for 30 Days at a Time throughout the year, to see if I could develop new habits and what sort of effect the 30 day projects would have on my life. The experiments include things such as practicing happiness, meditating every day and simplifying my wardrobe down to six items of clothing.

My 30 Days of Giving was the second project I took on, and the goal was simple: give something every day, whether that was money, volunteer time, or donated items. I gave food and used clothing to Manos de Cristo, Goodwill and Lisa’s Hope Chest; I donated money to the New Zealand earthquake relief and children’s cancer foundations; I volunteered for The Miracle Foundation, Truth be Told and Lilith Fund.

During my 30 Days of Giving, I had several major revelations:

Focusing on something outside ourselves and our own lives is extremely valuable—to ourselves personally and to our places in the world. Doing this every single day really woke me up to this fact; and I will make an effort from here on out to, in some way, focus on someone else or a bigger picture in the world every day.

It’s not that hard to find easy ways to incorporate giving into our daily lives as we go about our business. An extra dollar at the check-out line, a few cans of food to put in the food pantry collection at the grocery store, dropping off a few clothes you no longer wear at a shelter or Goodwill. Don’t save yourself up for the “big give”—try to do something small every week. I think it adds up more in the long run.

We all have something we can give. People with less money and resources give, on average and as a percentage, much more than wealthier people do. If they can do it, so can those of us who have plenty, even if we may not be rich.

When you’re having a bad day or struggling with a problem, try doing something for someone else. Maybe it’s volunteering or making a donation, or maybe it’s just doing a favor or kind act for a relative, friend or even a stranger. Many days, when I have been stressed or maybe not had the best day, my giving seems to be the thing that centers me and makes my day good again.

Giving is an awesome high and makes you feel great!

Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley Seale_the giving project_October 2011_giving
Austin journalist Seema Mathur, in Liberia Courtesy of Shelley Seale
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley Seale_the giving project_October 2011_chart
McClatchy analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data