Networks and Cultures of Giving

December 18, 2013 3 Comments

Adam Grant is a professor at the Wharton School of Business whose research focuses on “motivation, prosocial giving and helping behaviors, initiative and proactivity.”  His work and writing, including his book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, seem to have something to offer those interested in and engaged in developing networks for social change, as much of it points to data showing that organizations of all kinds benefit from fostering cultures of giving.

Grant claims that people exhibit behavior in the workplace that puts them into one of three categories: givers, takers, and matchers.  Givers tend to give more than they expect to receive, takers take more than they give, and matchers end up with more of a 1:1 ratio around giving and receiving.  Grant’s own and others’ research show that higher rates of giving are predictive of higher productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction, along with lower costs and turnover rates. “When employees act like givers,” Grant writes, “they facilitate efficient problem solving and coordination and build cohesive, supportive cultures that appeal to customers, suppliers, and top talent alike.” And there is a catch . . .

Givers are better positioned to succeed both for themselves and others when they are able to bring some nuance to their giving around dynamics of timidity, availability, and empathy. As Grant points out, givers can be less effective when they do not do three things that they can find quite challenging:

  1. Ask for help when they need it
  2. Draw boundaries around their availability to others
  3. Balance feeling empathy with thinking about others’ perspectives.

His recommendations for managers in organizational settings include helping others to:

  • Think about the bigger picture and purpose of giving and for asking others to give
  • Set boundaries, focused attention and intention around and for offers made
  • Be curious about others’ interests and imagine where they might be coming from

In the context of developing networks for change, a big challenge is to create conditions where participants can equitably experience individual and collective gain (the so-called “network bargain”), while also “growing the pie” of resources and potential impact.  A few thoughts based on and extending Grant’s work:

  • Keep the purpose and vision of the network front and center, the higher cause if you will.
  • Support an environment where diverse stakeholders are welcome and can engage with issues of power, equity, and inclusion to create equitable opportunity.
  • Help people to develop trusting relationships through storytelling and other practices.
  • Create space and invite people to make their needs visible.  This can be done through practices such as the “reciprocity ring” or the “network marketplace.”
  • Invite a personal practice of paying attention to the needs of others, thinking about what we each have to offer others (including other connections in our networks), and making offers/closing triangles.  June Holley’s Network Weaver Handbook has some helpful guidelines and exercises for supporting this behavior.
  • Encourage people to be grateful recipients of the wisdom, knowledge, talents, connections, and experiences of others.

Curious to hear other ideas, as well as reactions to Grant’s work and its applicability to social change.


  • GibranX says:

    Love Adam Grant’s work and the way ancient wisdom needs to be validated by research in our day! Also appreciating your link to networks – that really is the power of a vibrant network, relentless generosity!

  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    Agree with both of you. It’s hard to think of powerful work for social change that didn’t involve a high degree of generosity and love on the part of organizers and others active in the work.

    I attended a meeting at DARE in Providence recently ( about implementing Ban the Box, a new law designed to facilitate entry of ex-offenders back into the workforce. The campaign was conceived and driven by people who were affected by discrimination against ex-offenders –either themselves or people they love. ( Marco, the organizer who introduced the session said “Movement is very much aboutlLove. That’s very much what Ban the Box is about.”

Leave a Reply

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