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The Alternative To “Giving Back”

The concept of “giving back”—the idea that with success comes the responsibility of returning some of your prosperity to the world—is so ubiquitous that few people even question it.

Successful people, including entrepreneurs, are often made to feel a sense of guilt for their success, for achieving levels of wealth and freedom that few others are capable of achieving. The common belief is that if an individual has earned great rewards, they have a duty to make a generous donation of their money or time, or in some other way “give back” to society.

But “giving back” comes from a sense of obligation. What’s far better is simply giving—because you want to and have the means to do so, not because there is a debt that you owe.

Creating value for others.

The idea of successful entrepreneurs “giving back” implies that they took something in the first place. Far from taking, entrepreneurs, more often than not, have already given to society, their industry, and their community in the form of jobs, innovation, and economic stimulation. And the reason they’re so successful in the first place is because they first created value for others who wrote them a check for their offering in the marketplace.

They innovated a new product or service that people wanted and provided it in exchange for rewards—money, reputation, connections, and so on. They took nothing.

Not a “zero-sum” game.

Those who think that successful people took something that they’re obligated to “give back” tend to believe that if one person is successful, it’s at the expense of others who are not. From their point of view, there are limited resources in the world, and if one person has more than they believe is their “fair share,” it must be coming out of the pockets of someone else.

But this zero-sum attitude is one of scarcity. When entrepreneurs bring a new innovation to the marketplace, they have added something to the world, not taken something away. A product or service that was not previously there now exists. Entrepreneurs operate in a world of abundance where there are no limits to the improvements and contributions they can make.

Being able to give generously to others is one of the great rewards of success—not an obligation.
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Give—don’t “give back.”

Feeling pressure to “give back” can actually undermine an entrepreneur’s further success. They may start to feel that any act of ingenuity on their part will put them in the credit column of the social ledger. Though their innovations contribute to the world around them, the common exhortation of “giving back” makes them feel they owe a debt for their creativity.

This can disincentivize innovation and productivity when they should be encouraged.

Instead of “giving back,” entrepreneurs, whose success puts them in a unique position to be philanthropic, can focus on giving. There is no debt owed or duty to return something to society. There is no need to justify your success or feel guilty for what you’ve achieved. Instead, those who have been successful can enjoy the opportunity to give for giving’s sake.

Indeed, being able to give generously to others is one of the great rewards of success—not an obligation.