In a World Full of Takers, Be a Giver

Being part of Armstrong McGuire offers me the opportunity to meet so many people and immerse myself in new (to me!) and varying nonprofits. I love learning about the different challenges and opportunities organizations face, and the things that many of us are going through together in this sector.

There is a common theme I am hearing from our clients for the type of person they are seeking for leadership roles: collaborator, relationship builder. I hear those words echoed in job seekers as well.

The ideas of collaboration and relationship building are relatively simple, but the execution isn’t always as straightforward. We have been taught about the importance of teamwork since we were kids – there is no I in TEAM, right? But still, it is likely you’ve been in a situation where you struggled with a leader or teammate that lacked these skills. Or maybe there was that one project where you struggled with giving up some control or credit. I know I can think of one for myself!

Mulling over this topic led me to my bookcase and to an excellent (and heavily dog-eared) book by one of my favorite authors, Adam Grant. In Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success, according to Grant, there are 3types of reciprocity styles - takers, givers, and matchers – the third of which reflects a hybrid of give and take, in other words, expecting equal reciprocity. Throughout his research, Grant found that while givers can be found on the bottom of the success ladder, they are also at the very top.

Grant shares fascinating stories and studies that resonate the importance of collaboration and the benefits of working beyond self-interest. Grant writes, “The connection between individual and collective success underlies every story of successful givers in this book.”

One might assume that those of us working in the nonprofit sector are already doing this – working for a cause, a mission, a purpose bigger than ourselves. If that is true, why do we speak so reverently about collaboration, as if it were an elusive, rare trait?

I chalk it up to the fact that collaboration and relationship building take effort and intention. Being a successful collaborator means that you likely also possess, or actively work towards possessing, other key desirable traits, such as being a good communicator and trustworthiness. The big payoff is that in working to communicate effectively and build trust, you naturally begin to build positive relationships.

It is also beneficial to be mindful of two other factors Grant discusses: responsibility bias and information discrepancy. We show a responsibility bias when we assume that we are doing more work than others. That assumption is based on the information discrepancy that while we know firsthand all the effort that were putting in, we may only see parts of the work contributed by others.

Of course, though there will be times when you actually are putting in more effort and the lack of work by others is obvious but focusing on overall outcome and recognizing the contributions of others – or being a giver– is a more productive, positive path forward.

Sometimes it can feel like the takers always win, but I encourage you to be a giver. Because like Grant says, “There’s something distinctive that happens when givers succeed: it spreads and cascades.”

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