Hero of the Week! – You.

I usually reserve Monday for our Boner of the Week! post, in which I discuss an outrageous financial event or statement in the media. But in the spirit of the holiday season, today we’re turning in a different direction: random acts of kindness.

It’s a rare day when I’m happy when reading the news. It’s always politicians fighting, a celebrity has died or they’ve discovered drugs on a professional sports hero. So depressing. Friday, though, I was incredibly heartened when I read that people are randomly and anonymously paying off people’s layaway bill at K Mart and Walmart. Is it true that people, en masse, are taking up the reins and helping complete strangers pay their layaway bill?

It appears that it is. And it seems it’s going viral. Not only is this random generosity being chronicled in the Dayton Daily News above, but it’s appearing in newspapers across the nation

This is how charity should work. It’s exciting to know that people are donning the mask of anonymity and helping out people in need without expecting praise or financial compensation in return. Does this happen much? Are we, as a nation, charitable? Do we often help out complete strangers?

The quick answer?  Kind of.

Charitable Giving Around the World


This charitable giving index heat map, created by the Charities Aid Foundation, displays country-by-country ranking in the area of giving. Canada is the third most giving country overall, while the United States ranks fifth.

Digging Into the Charitable Giving Numbers

When it comes to gifts of money, 64 percent of Canadians and 60 percent of Americans hand over cash to charities. The Netherlands is the leader in this sub-category, with 77 percent of people gifting money to charities.

The numbers are reversed when it comes to giving time. 39 percent of the U.S. population and 35 percent of Canadians volunteer time for an organization. The leader? Turkmenistan, where a whopping 61 percent of citizens gave time.

What if someone is a complete stranger, such as the case in the K Mart an Walmart incidents? There’s some relatively good news in this area. 68 percent of Canadians answer that they have helped someone they don’t know, as compared to 65 percent of those in the United States. The leader is Liberia, at 76 percent.

If you’d like to dig further into charitable giving data, here’s a helpful chart at the Guardian website.

What does this data mean?

To me, it means that in the United States and Canada, we’re doing a fair job of giving, but we could be more charitable. We’re being soundly beaten by other countries in volunteerism, gifts of cash, and gifts to strangers.

Still, we’re among the leaders in most categories. This makes sense because the GDP of both the United States and Canada are high enough that you’d expect a similarly high level of charitable contributions. It’s exciting to see the number of people who donate time and give to strangers. At a time when many people are struggling, we’re still finding ways to go out and help in person, or to give to people who we may never meet again.

This random act of K Mart and Walmart kindness is particularly awesome to me because there is little chance that someone who performs these acts would even answer a survey to create the data above. This is completely anonymous giving, which makes it exciting.

Here’s a few of the reasons I love this story:

  1. No government mandated it, or told us that we’d all be taken care of. We’re actually taking care of each other without threat, payment or promise of acknowledgement.
  2. Although charitable contributions are tax deductible, people are waiving their right to claim this good deed for a tax break “profit.”
  3. The snowball effect is happening. As one person reads it, they get fired up and also give. You don’t need to come up with a new strategy or “neat” giving idea. Here’s a wonderful way to help a family.

The Potential Downside

I hope this random-acts-of-kindness outbreak doesn’t adversely effect donations to large, established charities. These organizations are well-oiled machines, and money you place in their capable hands is distributed only after careful due diligence in most cases.

I also hope that these people who are the random beneficiaries of this kindness use this opportunity to pull themselves up and create a better life. Instead of purchasing gifts they could pay off a credit card, or fix an important automobile that helps them keep their job.

I want this random giving to continue, but I don’t want it to go unrewarded. I’m not hoping some kids have a nice holiday season. I’m hoping their parents are able to use this as an opportunity to experience the true hope of the holiday.

What are you going to do?

First, I’m going to echo the call of many others. I’m going to focus on my giving pattern this holiday season. I’m going to volunteer time over the next few weeks to people and organizations that need my help. In fact, my children are already leaders in this area, helping out a local shelter on a weekly basis. It’s time for me to join them.

As a blogger, I’m hoping to ring the bell on this idea of random acts of charity. I hope we’re all able to help someone who could use a hand. All we need to do is think for a moment about whether it’s money, time or a gift to a stranger that is most important in our world.

Which is it for you? Does this “viral” campaign move you to give differently? What’s your next charitable act? Are you going to be the stranger giving some family a layaway present they didn’t expect?

If you’re going to do a random act, please share with us in the comments below….not for a pat on the back, but to share with other potential “random” gift-givers your ideas. I think we can feed off each others gifts to do better ourselves.

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Author: Average Joe

A 16 year veteran of the financial planning and financial media circus. Lover of hamburgers and ice cream.

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3 Comments

  1. This is an excellent idea – my charitable giving usually takes the form of paying the tab for military folks who are at my favorite buffet, as well as occasionally bringing food that we’re not using down to the food bank. One of the things that really turned me on with giving is that there’s a great feeling associated with it – and it’s one that seems *larger* than the act itself.

    Oh, how I loves those infographics in the mornin. :)
    Emily Hunter recently posted..Suffering, Financial Independence, and PassionMy Profile

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    • I get such a rush from volunteering and giving…better buzz than alcohol, for sure. Paying the tab for members of the military is an awesome idea. They do so much for us and are paid so little.

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  2. It’s great, too, especially if you volunteer for an organization you truly believe in… you’ll meet other people who share the same values. Great article, Joe… hopefully we can move up the charts even more in the next few years?
    PKamp3 recently posted..The Lottery-Insurance ParadoxMy Profile

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