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The Giving Project

The Giving Project

There are few things more powerful than giving. Whether we’re giving time, money, gifts or a helping hand, the difference we make in another’s life is immeasurable, and the rewards we receive in return are greater still.

To demonstrate the power of giving, the college worked with four students. We gave them each $100 and tasked them with giving the money away. The students had complete control over how they gave and to whom. Here’s a glimpse into their experiences, the impact they made, and how their attitudes toward giving were affected.

Showing gratitude

Shivani Brahmbhatt, class of 2023, knew right away how she wanted to give the money away. The chemistry major had questioned whether she had what it takes to succeed. But two of her professors, Tracy Thompson, PhD, and Lauralee Guilbault, PhD, intervened.

“(Tracy) motivated me to keep going. She would check up on me every day and tell me to take as much time as I need,” says Brahmbhatt. “Lauralee’s always been like a family member. She goes to the extra mile to care for her students. I want to give back to people who’ve gone over and beyond for me.”

Her idea? To surprise each of them with lunch, flowers and a card. Brahmbhatt likes to share tokens of appreciation, often with food, but this was a chance to show gratitude on another level. “If you have the chance to do something little to show someone that they matter, that you notice, I think it’s great,” she explains.

The result? Both professors were genuinely surprised and appreciative. “In that moment, they weren’t stressed; they weren’t worried. They were just smiling, and I was smiling with them. It was impactful,” says Brahmbhatt. “I don’t really have words for how good it feels.”

Charitable giving

Vanessa Lund, class of 2024, decided to donate the entire amount to Children’s Wisconsin because she not only supports their focus on mental health but also because she was once a patient. “I had a personal connection, so for me, being able to give money back to Children’s Wisconsin felt really good.”

Being able to donate online also made the process simple, if not as immediately gratifying as handing someone $100. Lund, a communication major, knows that there are children and families who need help, and she believes that allowing the organization to allocate her funds will have a greater long-term impact.

“Even though I might not be able to see the results right away, I think just knowing that the money is going to go to a good cause will make me feel good,” she says. “I feel gratified knowing that I could make a difference with the money I got and put it towards a good cause.”

Causes that matter

For Tania Hernandez Galvan, class of 2023, giving back to the community is something she values. As a public health major, she’s well aware of the disparities that exist in certain communities.

“I’ve always had an interest in working with women and children. I feel like giving back to the community or just letting them know that someone does care is super important,” she says.

The most difficult part for Hernandez was deciding how to divide the money among causes important to her. She ultimately bought pet supplies for the Wisconsin Humane Society, clothing for the Milwaukee LGBTQ Community Center’s free closet, and baby supplies for the Hispanic Health Resource Center in Waukesha, where she is currently an intern.

Her takeaways? Giving is much easier than she anticipated, and she was surprised to learn just how many organizations need assistance. She also learned how much even the simplest gestures are appreciated.

“We live in such a fast-paced society, I forget to slow down and just be in the moment, giving time to my family and friends,” she says. “Just being the sunshine for others goes a long way.”

Random acts of kindness

Jaquelin Moreno Gallegos, class of 2024, wanted to spread as much joy as possible, so she decided to buy fresh flowers and hand them out to people on campus.

“My love language is gift giving, because I feel like that’s how I show my affection, and it means a lot me to be able to give to people,” she says, adding that she looked forward to creating one-on-one connections with friends and strangers.

The education major has been volunteering in her community for several years, so giving of herself comes naturally. Her goal with this project? “I want to make somebody’s day, because you never know what somebody is going through. Maybe all they need is a random stranger to give them a flower.”

The biggest surprise for her was how people reacted.

“I thought people were going to be like, ‘Oh thank you,’ and walk away. But a lot of people were really sweet about it and asking questions like ‘Why are you doing this? What is this for?’ It was really cool,” she says. “I want to do something like this more often on my own or with other students. I think it would be a really cool thing to do.”

Psychology behind giving

So what motivates people to give? Kris Vasquez, PhD, professor of psychology, says the reasons can vary.

“Sometimes we give because we empathize so much with the distress of others that we can relieve our own suffering as well as theirs with a gift,” she says. “Sometimes we give as part of an implicit social pact: I'll give when I can, and I hope someone will help me when I need it. If we have received help, we might give to pay it back or pay it forward. We give to people who seem to need help, and to those we think deserve help, however we define that. We give to demonstrate our values.”

While some freely give their time, money or other resources, there are others who hesitate, oftentimes because they believe what they have to offer somehow isn’t enough.

“Imagine that I only have a dollar to give and I find it embarrassing to give so little, so instead I give nothing,” says Vasquez. “Is the recipient better off? No. And if many people like me who have a dollar to give actually gave it, there could be a big benefit to the recipient.”

Lund echoes this when reflecting on her experience.

“I may not have a lot of money, but there are always other options like volunteering. There’s always some way that you can give back to others,” she says.

Lessons learned

We may all have different incentives for giving, but doing so makes us happy.

“People feel sustained happiness from giving to others,” says Vasquez, and the students’ experiences bear this out.

“I learned that it truly does make me happy when I see other people smiling,” says Brahmbhatt. “This brought a lot of joy to me, and the joy you get from it is more than anything in this world.”

Hernandez Galvan felt inspired.

“It made me feel seen and it encouraged me to take more of my time to invest in these communities or these groups within my own community,” she says.

Moreno Gallegos reports that it made her feel good about herself.

“It’s so fulfilling, you get to feel joy because you made someone’s day,” she explains. “You don’t really know what someone’s going through or what they have going on, and maybe that one thing might make their whole day.”

“I learned the importance of being able to give back,” adds Lund. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have or how much you can give, the important thing is that you’re giving.”

All of the students involved indicated that they would like to continue giving, whether it’s their time, talents or money. Hernandez Galvan has even put regular giving in her planner, because, as she says, “small acts of kindness really do go a long way.”

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