I often reflect on this quote: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” I have noticed the profound and powerful truth of these words.

In my 35 years as an executive, corporate director and entrepreneur, I have observed that one of the most powerful forces in the world is the power of giving. Giving motivates, delights, inspires and moves people. I have learned never to underestimate the value of giving with a generous heart.

In this blog, I will discuss:

  1. Giving and taking in business
  2. Doing well by doing good
  3. Principles for giving generously and receiving graciously
  1. Giving and taking in business

In Adam Grant’s landmark book, Give and Take, he explores the power of giving in the context of the business landscape. Grant breaks the world down into three categories of people: Givers, Takers, and Matchers.

Takers are people who prioritize wealth, power, and pleasure. They like to win, and they take what they need to succeed. Matchers operate according to the principle of fairness; they give what they get. If you do a favour, a Matcher, they will reciprocate with a similar-sized favour—no more and no less.

Givers are different. They value helpfulness, responsibility, social justice and compassion, and these principles drive their decisions, regardless of what they expect to receive in return.

In business, there is a time to give, take and match. Recognizing the value of each category, you should develop your ability to be all three. That said, Grant tells us that statistically, the most successful people in the world are givers. It appears that in the long term, giving pays off.

Many of us aspire to give more, but it can be a challenge when you feel that you don’t have the time. However, there are many ways to give back that involve minimal time. Look for ways to give back that require just one day a year of commitment or others that request your time on an ad-hoc basis. For example, I have served on Advisory Boards for technology start-ups, where I made myself available for specific advice or meetings as needed.

Receiving can also be a challenge. When you’re in need, it can be tough on one’s pride to accept help from others, and it can be equally challenging to take praise when offered. I often struggle with receiving; giving is where I thrive.

To give back to the business community, I have carved out a handful of volunteering opportunities that suit my schedule and passions. To give back to colleagues in my profession, I am a member of the Advisory Council for the annual CPA Canada Audit Committee conference. I also facilitate a “Getting on a Board” workshop for CPA Canada. I have been a judge for the Goodman School of Business (my alma mater) annual Monster Pitch event, where I had the opportunity to share my wisdom with the next generation of entrepreneurs. I’m also proud to support the Dress for Success Toronto Chapter as my company’s official charity partner. And of course, I also have the pleasure of giving back my expertise and knowledge through speaking engagements on governance, diversity and leadership to inspire future business leaders and corporate directors.

  1. Doing well by doing good 

In psychologist Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, he breaks down the most powerful psychological influencers. At the top of the list? Reciprocity. The principle of reciprocity explains why those who do good also do well. When you give, the good you do eventually comes back to you in one way or another.

I aspire to live by this simple principle. For example, I founded Women Get On Board Inc’s (WGOB), a social purpose company to connect, promote and empower more women to get on corporate boards. As Scott Baldwin explains in his recent DirectorPrep.com blog, social purpose companies are determined to improve the world. In return, social purpose companies attract passionate directors and employees, which helps companies in their success. Together with a supportive community of accomplished corporate directors, I have built WGOB into an engaged community across Canada dedicated to building the pipeline of the next generation of women corporate directors. Similarly, I created the Deborah E. Rosati Entrepreneur Award at the Goodman School of Business to support the ventures of young entrepreneurs, who will one day start their own social purpose companies. I am profoundly aware that these actions not only help others, but they enrich my life, too.

Overall, I try to do good by instilling my values in life into my social purpose company:

  • Be authentic
  • Be passionate in everything we do
  • Be engaged and take initiative
  • Be communicative beyond expectation

For me, these values mean I have spent many years of my life volunteering, even when there is no immediate benefit to myself or my business. For example, I volunteered as a member of the Campaign Cabinet of the Ottawa Hospital Foundation; co-chaired the Ottawa ICD Chapter, served as a member of Advisory Council for Goodman Business School; served as a member of the President of Brock University’s National Advisory Council; and co-founded & co-chaired the Advisory Council of ENGAGE! Ottawa under the Ottawa Community Foundation. Finally, I choose to donate a portion of my time to young entrepreneurs. For example, I am a Mentor and Advisor to Rachel Collier of Third Door Marketing. While all of these were volunteer opportunities with no immediate benefit, they have all enriched my life or community in one way or another.

  1. Principles for giving generously and receiving graciously

I grew up in a family of giving. It has always been a part of who I am and what I do. Over the years, I have found the following principles useful for my approach to giving and receiving.

Give Generously

  1. Give with purpose and intent.
  2. Give to what matters to you.
  3. Be mindful that you can’t give to everyone.
  4. Give from your heart and be genuine.
  5. Give without expectation.
  6. Give credit to others; life is bigger than oneself.
  7. Protect your availability.

Receive Graciously

  1. Accept praise for your generosity with grace and joy.
  2. Do not undermine or second guess your generosity.
  3. Be grateful for the opportunity.
  4. Others will be inspired by your grace.
  5. Be open to accept help from others.
  6. Be respectful and timely in your receiving.
  7. Be authentic.

With these principles in hand, I believe anyone can improve their lives with the power of giving.