A Little Generosity Goes a Long Way: How a Small Kindness Can Have a Big Impact

Life seems to happen to me in twos. A few weeks ago I blogged about A Cautionary Tale for Marketers based on two stories—a “don’t do this” story and a “do do this” story. Today’s blog is two-fer of a slightly different type: two stories, both illustrating what a difference a small kindness can make.

Story 1: Parking in a Premium Demand Zone

Washington DC, where I live, has recently begun upgrading its street parking system. Many of our old coin-operated “single-space” meters have been replaced with “multi-space” meters that take credit cards as well as coins. If you’ve never encountered a “multi-space” meter, it’s a one-machine-for-a-whole-city-block kind of thing. When you pay, you pay for however much time you want and you are rewarded with a little white slip of paper that goes on your dashboard, telling the ever-industrious meter monitors when they can write you a ticket.

While I do appreciate the convenience of paying by debit or credit card (that is, when the card reader works), I hate the fact that any unused time goes wasted—or more accurately, I hate that it goes to the City. You see, if I come back earlier than expected, there’s no meter to be left behind with time remaining for the lucky next-parker; there’s just a slip of paper that drives away with me. Gone are the days of collaborating with my fellow citizens to share the burden, and beat the City at their parking meter game. (I know, I know, I should Metro more.)

Just last week I returned to my car 47 minutes earlier than expected. Being the mature adult that I am, I couldn’t bear the thought of giving away those 47 minutes to the City (particularly in light of what I paid to be in a “premium demand zone”), so I waited and offered it to a couple who pulled into a space a few cars behind me.

You would think I had handed them a check for $1,000. They were nearly giddy with excitement and effusive with their thanks.

I walked away with a little spring in my step—I beat the system and did a good deed, all in one fell swoop.

Story 2: Thirteen for the Price of Ten

Later that very same day, I was at my local FedEx Office picking up a print job for a client meeting. While waiting in line, I spied these really cool new plastic document holders—the perfect organizers for my documents and a nice change from the usual two-pocket folder deal. The only problem was there weren’t enough on the shelf to meet my needs. When I asked the clerk if there were more, he nicely said no. Then his manager chimed in and suggested we take a look at another shelf together to see what we could find. Et voila, there they were in another color, just one short. I said I could make do, no problem, and the manager offered to give me an extra one in a different color to make up for their lack of inventory. Then when she rung me up, she charged me for two fewer still. Each document holder was worth $1.29. She saved me a total of $3.87.

You would think she had handed me a check for $1,000. The gesture was grand, even if the dollar value was not.

And I walked away with a little spring in my step—what a nice, helpful lady!

The Moral of the Stories

It was fascinating to be on the receiving end of a small kindness so soon after I had offered one. Both experiences taught me a big lesson.

We talk a lot about the difference generosity makes here at Trusted Advisor Associates. “Selling by doing” offers a gift without expectation of return, among other things (see Selling by Doing Not Selling by Telling for the complete picture) and reciprocity–the tendency to return a favor—is the number one factor of influence. In fact, people who walk the talk of a Trusted Advisor tend to view life from a context of abundance and are always looking for ways to genuinely be of service.

What I didn’t realize until now is how little a kindness can be and still have a huge impact. 47 minutes. $3.87. A few extra copies of a book. A call returned at lightning speed in the midst of a busy day. An offer to spend a little time reviewing a document … with no meter running. Small things send a signal about our intentions, and help us keep our motives clean. If we’re only in it for big, we’re not in it for real. If we’re willing to be generous in all moments, including the little ones, it becomes a way of life. And the paradox is, of course, that if we’re willing to let go of hitting it big, we usually ultimately do.

I’ll remember this next time I’m tempted to take no action because I think it’s not worth my effort or not grand enough to matter. When it comes to generosity, a little goes a long way.