Profiling Needy

Last week I wrote a post about how money can buy happiness – and decided to do a ‘Pay-It-Forward’ exercise with my team – this is from that original post:

“Tomorrow morning I’m handing each one of my employees a $100 bill and asking them to go out into the world at some point their day and give it away – randomly – or not randomly – to someone other than themselves.  $100 isn’t a giant amount for my staff – but I’m sure it will have a big meaning to someone else – I think some of the people on my team will feel good about helping someone out – about surprising them and making their day/week/month.   My hope is they’ll come back with a smile and a story.  My hope is they’ll feel a little better about their day.  My hope is they’ll feel happy.  My hope is – money can buy happiness.”

So, this went down – a stack of $100 bills and we all went off to find who we thought needed that $100 the most.  First, I want to share some learning from this activity:

  • I gave very few rules – one was that they had to ‘give’ the money away that day, by midnight – almost everyone wished they had more time.
  • Apparently when you go to give out money – you do a lot of stalking! You want to make sure the receiver deserves it so you follow them around for like 10 minutes which tells you all you need to know about a person!
  • When given the chance to help – it’s hard to find someone to help! In any random day you see all kinds of people to help – someone hands you cash and says ‘Go Help’ and they all disappear…or do they!?  It seems when you actually have the resources to help – you do more ‘Profiling’ and become much more selective about who is actually needy! I say this with all positive intent – my team wanted to help out the ‘most’ deserving person – and you find out it’s hard to tell degrees of deserving apart!
  • In this exercise many on my team set very high expectations for the event of giving – reality is you probably don’t change someone’s life with $100 – but you surprise a lot of people!
  • Some people on the receiving end – are very cynical! (We actually had people say: “So, what do I have to do for this”; “Do I have to fill out a survey”; “What church are you from”, etc.  Just take the damn money! I was trying to be nice!  Others are very gracious.
  • You can find out a ton about what is important to your team, by listening to how and what they wanted to help others!

The Stories:

We had plenty of hugs, some crying, some cheers and a whole bunch of smiles!   We had people help out animals, babies, old people, young people, poor people, families, teens, schools, bartenders, servers and entrepreneurs.  I had one team member who wanted to share our experience and asked the person he gave his $100 to keep $25 and pass the rest on with the same instructions – 4 total people getting a nice smile in their day.  I had many team members stalk local grocery stores wanting to help others pay for their groceries – to make their week a little easier  – these stories were the funniest hearing how they stalked the aisles and ‘profiled’ the neediness of the individuals.   We heard from teammates who seemed to have a hard time giving the money away at every turn – some people, it would seem, are to proud to accept a simple gift of help (not something you see everyday in today’s world).

One big learning my team took away from this was that quite possibly – it would have been more rewarding if it was their own personal money – and not the companies money (I said I be willing to take it out of their check! 😉 ) But many decided the experience was so rewarding they wanted to do it on their own – and share the experience with their families – the Pay It Forward principle at it’s best.

I think I learned the most – about myself.  In the end I gave my money to a young Latino who had just started up his own business.  It’s tough to start a business in any climate – to be a young minority in Michigan, it might be even harder.  He captured my heart – his will, his enthusiasm, his naive confidence that it could only be successful!  I went looking to help someone who couldn’t help themselves and found myself supporting someone who decided, against all odds, to help himself.  I was drawn to support that.  I’m not sure what that says about me – but the experience made me ‘happy’ and made me feel a connection to my community that I didn’t feel before.  I’ll do this again.  Like my teammates at work – I’ll use my own money – I’ll involve my kids – I’ll try to hear more stories.

The money invested in this was the best investment in my company that I’ve made in a very long time.  Please steal this idea – it doesn’t have to be $100 bills – it can be $5, $10, whatever – you’ll be better for it!



7 thoughts on “Profiling Needy

  1. Your srory reminded me of an incident that happened long ago. It was Christmas time years ago and as we were pulling out of a parking lot my son asked me to stop. He then asked for a couple dollars, open the door, walked over to a man with a “Will work for food” sign, handed him the money and got back into the car. Not another word. I learned the pay-it forward concept years ago from a 7 year old.

  2. This article is awesome…last night my 17 yr old son and I were out running some errands. We passed by this man who we see frequently sitting on side of road with his bible & umbrella. This isnt something new, we’ve seen him lots of times and he’s been in our paper. I was telling my son about “paying it forward” and at that moment we decided we wanted to get him something to eat. Went to Mcdonalds and purchased chicken sandwiches & bottled water. We drove back by and I let my son get out & give to him. The man welcomed him and was greatly appreciative of his kind act. We left from there waving and big smiles! My son felt so good and hopefully learned a wonderful lesson! Thanks for your story!

    • Terri –

      Thanks for sharing your story – it always seems to make you better when helping someone else out!


  3. I absolutely love this idea Tim!

    Thanks for sharing what you and your team learned in this experiment – and thanks for helping several folks too.

    I always knew that you and Oprah were just alike!

    • Jen –

      Oprah and I will have to have you over some time for dinner – I’ve really been working with her to start giving!

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