The Pay It Forward Effect

My favorite warm beverage is a hot apple cider or pumpkin spice latte. Perfect for this time of year. As I reflect on memories surrounding some of my favorite drinks, foods, people and moments, I often think back to the time my favorite warm beverage was free. In fact, as I was pulling my car up to the window to receive my pumpkin spice latte, the barista said, “Ma’am today your drink is free thanks to the person in front of you.” Like many of us who have experienced similar occurrences, I was first shocked but filled with gratefulness. The barista then proceeded to ask me, “Would you like to pay the gesture forward?” Without hesitation, I proceeded to do so. If one person, one stranger, can choose to make a difference in my day, I can do the same for another.

Why do acts of generosity like this happen? According to a New York Times article, “One possibility is that generosity among strangers can be socially contagious…if you receive or observe an act of help, you become more likely to help others, even if your own action won’t be directly reciprocated or rewarded. Rather than repay someone for helping you, you pay it forward.”  This is the pay it forward effect.

Author of the book, Pay It Forward, and inspiration for the 2000 movie (one of my personal favorites), Catherine Ryan Hyde, describes the pay it forward effect as a single act of kindness creating a cascade or chain reaction of kindness. “The concept of paying it forward is a powerful idea where the focus is shifted to using the abundance we receive to benefit others.” Just like the person in front of me did in line at Starbucks, the actual act of kindness may take the form of a concrete act, or it can be more abstract in nature by showing that you see the person as a vital part of your community.

If you feel inspired to pay it forward but don’t know where to start, here are three ideas to pay it forward and make twice the impact:

  1. Leave an anonymous note of appreciation to someone you see often. Whether that person is a neighbor, the office security guard, or the nightly cleaning crew for your company. Let them know you appreciate their hard work AND that you have donated a vaccine in their honor through Greater Gift as part of our pay it forward campaign in December.
  2. Send a message of gratitude to your staff and co-workers. Include in that message that you are paying it forward with Greater Gift, a vaccine has been donated in their honor, and you hope they will choose to pay it forward too.
  3. Leave an extra gift for your waiter or waitress at your next visit to a restaurant to indicate you really appreciate their service and you want to give back in their honor through Greater Gift.

Ultimately, paying it forward does much more than bring a smile and warm a heart, it is an intentional act of generosity that reminds people that we all matter to someone, in some way. To kick off Pay It Forward December, we are choosing to randomly pay it forward to five people by donating a vaccine in their honor. We hope you will join us.

Share your pay it forward acts with us at, so we can share them and inspire others to do the same.