What Does It Actually Mean to Be Generous?

How will you spend Thanksgiving this week? As an American holiday, it usually includes time with family and ridiculous amounts of food and football. Talk about a great combination!

As we prepare to celebrate the holiday, it’s important to note that thankfulness actually encompasses four different areas: gratitude, generosity, sharing and contentment. Last week, I mentioned how important it is to be generous, especially with so many people who need our help. Right now, it’s the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. (If you haven’t made a donation yet, you can contribute to the Red Cross here). But there are many more.

I’d like to challenge you to be a generous person. Here’s how you can get started.

GenerosityStop Making Excuses

I don’t have enough to give. What I have won’t make a difference. I’m not convinced there is a real strategic solution in place. Generosity isn’t my “spiritual gift.” I’ve heard (and made) some of these excuses in the past. They make it easier to justify doing nothing. Instead of focusing on what we can’t do, look at what we can do. Everyone can do something.

Identify a Need

We can’t fix every situation and meet every need, but we can do something. So choose something or someone you really connect with. Do you prefer to solve problems or help a group of people? Start there.

Look at What You Have – and Be Creative

Generosity is not just about giving money to the less fortunate. We can be generous with our time, talents, ideas, platform and a limitless number of other things. Last week I shared one of my favorite stories of a football team who shared their fans with the other team. I have friends who give up one Saturday morning each month to do service projects in the local community. Other friends teach a personal finance class. A teacher gives a few extra minutes to prepare lessons for special needs students. Another friend donates his ideas as a board member of a local YMCA. One of my friends recently wanted to raise $5,000 for cancer research, so he offered to write a personal theme song for donors and follow them around for an hour performing it in public. The options are limitless!

Plan Ahead

I can’t stand when people challenge me to give up a coffee or two a month to contribute to their cause. Coffee is important! (Or in my case, breakfast). I’d rather plan ahead so I don’t have to miss out on such a small but crucial part of my day.

Honestly, this is usually the crucial step. Many times when we encounter a need, we’re completely unprepared to respond to it. That’s why we need to plan ahead. If you set $20 (or $50 or $250) to automatically transfer to a separate bank account each month, then you don’t have to think about whether you have any money to share when an opportunity presents itself. If you have no margin in your calendar, you won’t be able to commit to a service opportunity or have a conversation with someone who needs to talk.


I’ll be honest, I’m not a big hugger by nature. But sometimes that’s what the situation calls for and I have to step up. I mentioned last week that I believe everyone ought to make a donation to the Haiyan survivors, even if they don’t have tons of cash laying around. We can’t always outsource a form of generosity that doesn’t come naturally for us. We may have a favorite, but we should be flexible as well. Incidentally, what people ultimately need is hope. Can you give that?

Make It a Lifestyle Habit

The goal of generosity isn’t a one-time transaction but a lifestyle. Every little bit counts, even if it’s never noticed by the masses.

Generosity is its own reward.

Will you join me in becoming a generous person?

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website  or follow him on Twitter.

Nathan Magnuson is an executive leadership consultant, speaker and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting ways Nathan is helping organizations and teams become more effective with Leadership-in-a-Box.