Archive for December, 2009

Random acts of kindness

Yesterday I did my part for Yahoo’s holiday kindness campaign, encouraging people to spread random acts of kindness; it didn’t go exactly as planned, but the end result was turned out great.

The deal was that a few selected volunteer employees would be reimbursed $100 for doing a random act of kindness, such as paying for people’s coffee in a coffee shop or tolls at a toll booth. Those are good things but I had my own criteria for what I wanted to do:

  • Support local businesses – put money back into my community instead of a national corporation coffer
  • Help those in need – give to people who could use help, not people already well off
  • Effect many people – instead of one-off that touches just one or two people, effect as many as possible
  • Allow for multipliers – let people pay it forward immediately, turn the initial $100 investment into more
  • Be personal – interact with other hu-mans and spread cheer, don’t just drop off supplies at a warehouse
  • Bonus – bonus points if it helps children or is green/eco friendly

My big idea was to go to a local grocery store, buy $100 of groceries and stand outside and encourage people to buy a can while shopping inside and match my cart, with all food being donated to the local food bank, or take a can of food for free and pay it forward later. I was excited, printed up a bunch of signs, got supplies, but long story short, I went to three grocery stores and they all shot me down. They didn’t seem to care that this would increase their store sales, and definitely didn’t care that it would spread kindness.

At that point I was feeling pretty frustrated and angry at corporations (even the ‘local’ grocery store had a corporate office!) and started driving home. On the way back I drove by Books Inc, a great local bookstore in Mountain View’s downtown and got an idea – I would pay for people’s books and encourage them to buy children’s books that I would bring to donate at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital where I volunteered for a few years. That idea still matched almost all of my criteria.

I chose people with smaller purchases, ~$15 or less so I could get many different people. At first people were suspicious. They wanted to know what the ‘catch’ was. After a little more explaining that it was all in the name of kindness, they suspicion always turned to surprise, joy and gratitude.

A few people would excitedly call over family members from other parts of the store, “Dad! C’mere! This guy just bought my books for me!” Or, “Tommy! Come over here, this nice man just bought your books, what do you say? Give him a high five”.

After I paid for a mother and daughter’s Hello Kitty calendar, they sort of wandered out of the store in a kindness daze, a few seconds later the daughter ran back in with arms open and said with a smile, “you deserve a hug” and then ran back out.

It was great when people chose to donate children’s books on the spot, they would go to the children’s section of the store and come back with their favorite childhood books and tell me why they loved them so much. Often times the cost of children’s books they bought to donate was more expensive than the initial book(s) I had bought in the first place. One lady came back with a really beautiful edition of Alice in Wonderland that any kid would love.

The employees at Books Inc got into the spirit too, they were all very curious yet supportive about what I was doing and helpful too, giving advice on books, shooting me an approving look to approach if a purchase was under $15, backing me up when customers thought I was trying to trick them somehow. Before I left, a couple employees had picked out handfuls of their favorite children’s books and bought them with their own money to hand to me. That was something I wasn’t expecting and was a very generous gesture. Big thanks to the fine folks at Books Inc in Mountain View that I met that day, Nadine, Doug, Ryan, Cindy and Tracy, ya’ll rock.

I purchased books for about 15 people in a 2 hour span and went over my $100 allotment by about $50 but was happy to do it. It was very gratifying to just give to people for the sake of being nice. Everyone would leave with these big happy smiles on their faces and I’m sure a few of them will continue the chain of kindness somehow later. The number of donated children’s books totaled 17, at a value of $200. It was great to spend $100 on people, make them happy and have them voluntarily give back $200 of personalized kindness in return. I’ll be dropping off the books at the hospital tomorrow where I’m sure they’ll be enjoyed by many.

Donated childrens books

It was a great experiment, one that I may try again soon just because it felt so good. I’d encourage you to try spreading kindness in your own way, you just might like it. Happy holidays!