Adam Grant

  Adam Grant


The nonprofit world has largely been built on the importance of giving to accomplish real needs in communities across the globe. Yet, oftentimes giving (or more correctly in my research, Givers) get a bad rap. The fact that we, in our communities, are surrounded by Takers (see below) makes us a little paranoid. We worry about whether they will take credit for our work, abuse the privileges in our communities, and ultimately suck up the limited resources of our organization.

In Give and Take, I shared the results of a decade of research into the three fundamental styles of social interaction: giving, taking, and matching.


“Takers …like to get more than they give. They tilt reciprocity in their own favor, putting their own interests ahead of others’ needs. Takers believe that the world is a competitive, dog-eat-dog place. They feel that to succeed, they need to be better than others. To prove their competence, they self-promote and make sure they get plenty of credit for their efforts. Garden-variety takers aren’t cruel or cutthroat; they’re just cautious and self-protective.” (p. 4)

Takers sometimes become antagonistic, using creative rationalization to maintain a positive self-image, badmouthing peers (“My colleague didn’t deserve that”) or overcharging customers (“He should have done his homework”) to improve their own status. They come to view antagonism as an appropriate response, or as opportunities to improve their standing at the expense of others.


“In the workplace, givers are a relatively rare breed. They tilt reciprocity in the other direction, preferring to give more than they get. Whereas takers tend to be self-focused, evaluating what other people can offer them, givers are other-focused, paying more attention to what other people need from them… If you are a giver at work, you simply strive to be generous in sharing your time, energy, knowledge, skills, ideas, and connections with other people who can benefit from them.” (p. 4-5)

Givers often lose ground to coworkers initially, because time spent in helping others leads to decreased productivity in their own work. In the long-run, however, givers are more successful than others because their passion for helping others builds relationships and motivation. If you find a caring salesperson, you are more likely to buy now, to purchase more in the future, and to refer new customers. Helping others enriches the meaning and purpose of our own lives, showing us that our contributions matter and motivating us to work harder, longer, and smarter.


“Professionally, few of us act purely like givers or takers, adopting a third style instead. We become matchers, striving to preserve an equal balance of giving and getting. Matchers operate on a principle of fairness when they help others, they protect themselves by seeking reciprocity. If you’re a matcher, you believe in tit for tat, and your relationships are governed by even exchange of favors.” (p. 5)

These styles are important to understand within your organization. It’s likely that you will have individuals within your organization with each of these types of social interaction styles. So how do you work to create a collaborative environment that brings value for all of your team?

Reciprocity Rings

One method is to create something like a reciprocity ring, as developed by Wayne Baker (University of Michigan) and his wife Cheryl Baker (Humax Networks). Here, 8-30 people are brought together and each is asked to make a meaningful personal or professional request. Other members of the group are tasked with using their knowledge and networks to make the request happen.

Could you imagine a nonprofit association in which members were strategically seeking to help one another through the sharing of their personal networks and resources? What about a coalition of nonprofit organizations meeting in the context of seeking to develop a deeper impact on their local community – how would a reciprocity ring bring growth?

In my experience, 80% of requests are given a lead that the requesters would not have been able to make on their own. This teaches people to act like givers because they can see those needs and requests and figure out how to help. They also realize that giving can be more efficient than matching. The ring encourages people to ask for help that their colleagues weren’t aware they needed and efficiently sources each request to the people most able to fulfill it.

When it comes to organizational cultures, the lesson here is a powerful one: if you want it, go and give it. What could be achieved in your organization – and what giving norms would develop – if groups of people got together weekly for 20 minutes to make requests and help one another fulfill them? How would this giving grow your organization and impact your community?

Adam Grant is a management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where he is the youngest full professor and top-rated teacher. He has been recognized as one of HR’s most influential international thinkers, BusinessWeek’s favorite professors, and the world’s top 40 business professors under 40. He is the author of Give and Take, a New York Times bestselling book that has been translated into 27 languages and has been named one of the best books of 2013 by Amazon, the Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal— as well as one Oprah’s riveting reads, Harvard Business Review’s ideas that shaped management, and The Washington Post’s books every leader should read.

Excerpts reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from Give and Take by Adam Grant. Copyright © 2013 by Adam Grant.

This article is reprinted from Issue #4 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today!

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