Fairmount InSights

Have you ever exchanged business cards with a new contact at a networking event only to never hear from them again? This often happens when both people interact solely with the mindset of “how can this person help me?”

Adam Grant, a renowned organizational psychology researcher and the youngest tenured professor at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that the most successful people are those who help others, even if the rewards for helping aren’t immediately clear. Grant’s book Give or Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success landed among the New York Times best-seller list in 2013. His research offers a roadmap for nonprofit professionals to create relationships along a broad and deep spectrum.

Grant separates the worldview of people who help others in a professional setting into three distinct groups – givers, takers, and matchers.

  • Givers – give more than they get, with no expectation of return. Givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them. Actions include giving help, sharing credit, and making introductions. Outside the workplace this behavior is common. But inside the workplace, givers are rare.
  • Takers – help others strategically, when the benefits to them outweigh the personal costs.
  • Matchers – willing to help others but expect something in return. Fairness and reciprocity govern matchers’ values. Most people fall in this group.

Grant discovered that people who occupy the bottom of the success ladder are givers, partly because they’re “too trusting and too willing to sacrifice their own interests for the benefit of others.” ¹

Who occupies the top of the success ladder? Givers again.

Grant found that takers and matchers are more likely to land in the middle of the success ladder. It’s important to understand Grant’s research found that takers, matchers, and givers all can – and do – achieve success. But the distinction occurs in what happens when givers succeed. Their success ripples to other people and often compounds into greater success. Everyone benefits. When takers win, someone else loses.

How can givers inhabit both the top and bottom of the success ladder?

Essentially being a giver can be inefficient in the short-term but very productive over time. In the immediate, givers can be so focused on helping others that they can spread themselves too thin or neglect their own interests. For example Grant found that givers who worked in sales brought in less revenue than other sales people early on. ² These salespeople were more focused on their customers’ needs rather than trying to sell them on features and upgrades they didn’t need. But a year later the same salespeople earned the highest revenue. Customers returned to these salespeople consistently because of the excellent service they received before. And they shared their positive experiences with new people, who also became acquainted with the “giver” salespeople. Nonprofit leaders seeking to build more relationships on a deep and broad level, adopting a giver mindset can provide the best framework.

How matchers and takers give differently than givers

Takers and matchers also give within their networks, but in very different ways. Most people, including nonprofit leaders, are matchers. Grant’s research shows that matchers and takers help those who they think can help them in the near future. The disadvantage is that it’s difficult to determine who will be able to help most in the future. In Give & Take, Grant shares anecdotes from his research about givers who helped people who, at the time, did not have resources of value to the giver. However, over time they had a lot more to offer and returned favors to the giver, often in much more substantial ways.

It’s important to understand that “givers” typically give much more than they receive. This is because giving isn’t a strategy to get something tangible back, but more akin to a philosophy that embraces helping others to succeed. However, this approach ultimately does leave givers successful in the long-run, and with a steady support system of connections who are ready and willing to help if needed.

Grant’s research offers nonprofit professionals a roadmap to create and strengthen relationships both internally and externally. Nonprofit professionals can adopt Grant’s approach to connect with other organizational leaders across sector, develop better relationships with funders, or deepen relationships internally with staff and Board.

¹ Grant, Adam. Give & Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success
² Grant, Adam. The Atlantic “How to Succeed Professionally by Helping Others”


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