A friend recently turned 60 and I wanted to do something significant for her. I wanted her to feel that something out of the ordinary had happened, and I wanted her to feel happy. She is a very generous and friendly person, and she really believes in the power of philanthropy. I thought about how I could intervene in her routine in an interesting way, and this is what I came up with.
A micro-philanthropic neighborhood gesture: coffee for $60 for 60.
I took $60 in cash, and approached my friend’s local coffee shop. I asked the three women working that morning if I could give them the cash, and have it buy my friend’s coffee when she came in, and then as many coffees after that as possible.
I asked if each free coffee given out could have a sticker placed on it. Each sticker said Happy Birthday Mary, so that the recipients would associate their gift with the birthday girl.
I handed the coffee shop employees the stickers I had made ahead of time.
Then I left the vicinity and hoped it would all work.
I told Mary that I had bought her a coffee for her birthday, so she should go in and get it. She went, and called me right back saying that something funny had happened—the man behind her had been given a coffee, and, without knowing she was the Mary responsible for his gift, muttered, “Thanks, Mary!” quietly while putting milk into his cup.
At first, that was the only evidence she had of the gift. But, a few days later, something else happened. In her words,
“The most fun and surprising part of the gift happened when I went into the coffee shop three days after my birthday. Elizabeth, the young woman who is the manager, said, ‘Good morning, Mary!’ with which the older man ahead of me in line, and the younger man behind me, both said, ‘You are Mary? I was in here on Monday and got a free coffee. Thank you!’ That led to more conversation and an assertion that I didn't LOOK 60 years old (which delighted me), and I continued my travel to work feeling as though I had made two new friends.”
To create this for someone you love:
- Pick your location and item to be given away.
- Order stickers that say what you want them to say. Make sure they create the kind of attention and recognition that the honoree will most enjoy.
- Ask the employees or people in charge at the location you’ve selected if they can carry out your plan. Identify an incentive for them to do so (at the coffee shop, I gave the employees a nice tip, as I would have if I were buying a bunch of coffees individually, and I knew they would likely receive other tips when people got free coffees.)
- Be patient. It took a week for the real reaction to happen when I tried this myself. But it was so worth it!
Eliza Gregory is an artist and educator. Her work illuminates diverse experiences in a given community using images, relationships, experiences, interviews, events and many other media. Trained as a fine art photographer, a creative writer and a social practice artist, Eliza lives and works in San Francisco. You can see her work at www.elizagregory.com