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How to Give When You Feel like You Give Too Much: Interview with Adam Grant

A clock.

If you work in the nonprofit sector, it can be easy to feel as though you spend a lot of your time giving. The work we do—whether ensuring people have the services they need to thrive or getting your larger community to support your organization—requires a lot of time and energy, often with limited resources. We often have to go above and beyond in our work, and as a result, many of us face burnout.

So when a book like “Give and Take” comes along, arguing that the key to success is to give and give often, your first question might be, “Do I really have to give more?”

Adam Grant, author of “Give and Take” says, “yes.” However, generosity is not about giving, but rather giving the right way.

To learn more, we spoke with Adam about being a successful giver, tackling burnout, and when it makes sense to say, “no.”

What distinguishes successful givers from failed givers?

Failed givers are basically self-sacrificing. They put other people’s interest ahead of their own to the point where they burn out and get taken advantage of.

Successful givers say, “I’m going to help as much as I can, but not in a way that compromises my achievements or well being.” A good example is the oxygen mask on an airplane: you can’t help others until you help yourself.

What advice would you give to people who feel as if they are giving too much and perhaps are starting to feel burnt out?

Successful givers set boundaries around who they help, when they help, and how they help.

First, be selective about who you give to. If you’re dealing with someone who is self-serving, or in the taker bucket, it’s wise to be a bit more cautious. Reserve biggest acts of giving to people who will pay it back and pay it forward.

Next, be clear about blocking out time to work on your own projects and when you’ll give. Many people confuse being nice with being helpful. A successful giver says, ” I don’t have to say yes all the time; I’ll give when I can have the greatest impact, and I won’t let it interfere with my productivity.”

As for how to give, many people want to help in every way possible, becoming jacks-of-all-trades in giving. Successful givers become specialists instead of generalists; they focus on helping in one or two ways that align with their skills and interests, so it’s more energizing and efficient instead of exhausting and distracting.

The serial entrepreneur Adam Rifkin is a good example of this. He loves to make introductions. People used to ask him to review business plans, but once he became known as someone with a great network, why would you ask for business plan feedback when his most valuable contribution is who he knows?

By specializing in making connections for others, he’s able to focus on the form of giving that he finds most enjoyable and does uniquely well. He also highlights that introductions have another benefit: they’re five-minute favors. Giving in ways that are valuable to the recipient, but low cost to the giver, is a reasonable step.

What are some first steps people can take to become more thoughtful givers?

Internally, look at how you’ve been helping over the past few days, months, and even years. What have you enjoyed? Where can you say, “I really made a difference here”? You’re looking for patterns. You also want to see what aligns with your skill set.

Externally, do an analysis of what you’re often being asked for. What needs and contributions are taking up your time, and how can you align them with what you’re good at and where contributions are most needed?

Want to learn more about Give and Take? Pick up the book here, and follow Adam Grant on  Twitter.

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by Allison Jones

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