Hooked on Giving

My wife, Ginger, has been in kind of a down mood the last couple of days.  Post-holiday, too-busy, too-many-expectations, too-much-of-everything-coming-at-you blues.  That’s the way she left the house this morning for her three-hour shift volunteering for a local non-profit thrift store. At the end of her shift, she called me, simply euphoric.
While she was working the register, a young mother–obviously not well-heeled–with a couple of kids in tow came up with about $40 worth of merchandise, most of it clothes for the kids. As she pulled out her purse to pay, a man walked up and said, “I’ll pick this one up.”  When the (very grateful) woman left, he said, “Can you just run me a tab; we’ll see how far I can go with this.”  As it turned out, he ended up paying everyone’s ticket, all morning, absorbing more than $500 in receipts.  One woman, when told her tab was paid, turned to the man with tears in her eyes and said, “You don’t know how much this helps; I’ve been out of a job for four months.”  He very discretely followed her out the door and gave her a hundred dollar bill.  Many customers, inspired by his generosity, donated what they would have spent.  The store had a blockbuster Thursday morning (and all the proceeds go to the non-profit’s community work). The customers left happy. The staff left feeling good (what a cool place to work, where you can witness something like this!).  Surely the man himself left happy. 
Seems to me there are a lot of benefits to be gained in a giving process that  feels good. It’s inspiring. It’s sustaining.  It makes people want to do it again. It’s contagious.  Witness the popularity this holiday season of people paying off others’ layaway tabs in retail stores
So what made this particular incident feel so good?  It’s unusual and unexpected.  It’s immediate–you can see who’s being helped, and in many cases their gratitude is uplifting. It had a viral effect.  It was, as we say in corporate-speak, “leveraged.” 
More often than not, donors don’t get to directly witness their good deeds being carried out.  It’s often not practical or respectful of those who ultimately benefit from the contribution.  A thank-you note is really nice, but it just doesn’t deliver the same impact as watching someone receive a gift. 
At its best, giving delivers a high that’s quite compelling.  I’m hesitant to use the word “addictive,” but it is something one wants to return to time and again.   Short of their being on hand when generosity is delivered, what can we all do to make people feel good about their giving?