We all give—every day in a variety of ways. We give to our children, our families, our communities, and to causes we care about. So what is aspirational giving and why is it important? In this blog we will look at three main concepts:

  • Defining and clarifying aspirational giving,
  • The origin of giving and why it is important, and
  • Our individual giving and how it relates to "philanthropy."

Defining and clarifying aspirational giving

In looking more closely at the term "aspirational giving," let's break it down into its component words. Aspiration is defined as a "strong desire, longing, aim or ambition." In a sense, it implies the act of striving for something greater than you. Giving is defined as "to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation." So putting this combination in context and realizing that to accomplish your goal, you must have the intent to "do good." To reach that end, we need to have clear goals, be intentional, and have a strong aspiration to give.

When further examining and breaking down the concept of giving, positive change needs to start with and emanate from the individual. We are not talking about top-down solutions since each of us is different. Our families are different and our communities are different. There is not a “one size fits all” option.


“The more focused and intentional our giving is, the more meaning we can bring to our individual lives, our families and fellow citizens.”


This means individuals, families, and communities are best served from the grassroots level—not from the top down—as the specific needs and solutions will vary and can best be identified and resolved by the locals. We are talking about each of us looking within ourselves and bringing about positive change for the greater good for ourselves, our families and our communities.

Hence, aspirational giving is the strong and intentional desire to give.

The origin of giving and why it is important

Each of us gives. We love and give to our children. We give to our friends, our families, and our communities. Why do we do this? As you may recall from Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which I believe we all learned about on some level in grade school, there is a pyramid we all have that is inherent to our nature. At the top of the pyramid, is self-actualization which is basically "becoming all you can be." Just before Maslow died in 1971, he wrote a manuscript that was subsequently published titled The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. In this book, he incorporates the concept of self-transcendence, which in layman's terms is a positive personality trait that involves going outside of one’s self to include "our giving nature" for something beyond us.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

So while our traditional schooling emphasizes us as individuals and the importance of meeting our individual needs such as our physiological, safety, and self-esteem needs, those are inwardly focused and did not include Maslow's outwardly focused concept of self-transcendence. It is the concept of self-transcendence that incorporates our individual "giving" and our desire to help.


“Because of the self-transcendental quality of human existence, being human always means being directed and pointing to something or someone other than self”

Dr. Viktor Frankl, holocaust survivor and the founder of logotherapy


Why is giving so important? As I read about Maslow, I recalled reading Dr. Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. Dr. Frankl was a Holocaust survivor from World War II and the founder of Logotherapy; a mode of therapy based on man’s motivation to search for meaning in his life. In Frankl’s book, The Will to Meaning, he discusses self-transcendence and how to achieve meaning in life.

One of the three main ways to find meaning in life is through giving. Of particular interest is the way self-transcendence and giving go hand-and-hand. Giving, proposed by both Maslow and Victor Frankl himself, demonstrates the individual has entered a state of self-transcendence—or has risen above the self—and realizes he or she is just one small part of a greater whole. So in a nutshell, our individual giving brings meaning to our lives by contributing to the greater good. The more focused and intentional with our giving, the more meaning we can bring to our individual lives, our families and fellow citizens. The challenges, of course, are numerous. The more our basic needs as espoused by Maslow are met, the more capacity we have to give. If we are capable of giving, we have to understand the reason for our giving, be intentional in our giving, and be focused with our giving.


“If we care about our families, others, or something outside ourselves, then no matter our financial position we are each philanthropists.”


Aspirational giving and "philanthropy"

Like many things in our society, we each develop stereotypical understandings of words and concepts. One such concept is the word "philanthropy.” When most people think of philanthropy, they think of rich people giving money to those in need or to causes they care about. After all, this is what is delivered to us via the media every day. With regards to philanthropists and the concept of philanthropy, the people giving money are typically "rich." But the actual word philanthropy is defined as the "altruistic concern for human welfare and advancement." I've also heard it is defined as "love of humanity."

So let's step back a second and reflect on what it means to be a "philanthropist" in the truest sense of the word—not as it is stereotypically proposed by our own thinking and perpetuated by various media outlets. I will, from here on out, avoid whenever possible using the word "philanthropy" in reference to giving since it is incorrectly stereotypical and most people have a preconceived idea of what philanthropy is.

If we as individuals are self-transcendental and give to others—our love, our time or any other resources—we each possess, then we are by definition a philanthropist. For our purposes and moving forward we are introducing a better term for these individuals—these are individuals with a giving heart. For we each have giving hearts and give in different ways, depending on our individual talents and resources as well as the specific needs that our giving focused on. So if we as humans care about our families, others, or something outside ourselves, then we are each—no matter our financial position—philanthropists.

In summary, self-transcendence includes the giving to others and to causes outside of one’s self that is greater than us. Giving is part of our individual inherent nature. It is through our individual giving that we achieve meaning in our lives and, if it is focused and intentional, it can be a powerful force for good for our families, our communities and our nation.

It starts at the grassroots level. It starts with each of us as individuals. We must each do our part to educate and empower others so that they too can be self-transcendent and embrace their own giving heart.

Let's do some good!


Coming Next: Engaging the Heart and Head for Smart Giving


©2019 Aspire to Give®. All Rights Reserved. Greg Doepke is a Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy® and a Certified Financial Planner®. Greg serves on the Board of Directors for the International Association for Advisors in Philanthropy and as the Philanthropist in Residence at Auburn University’s Cary Center for the Advancement of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies. As the founder of Aspire to Give® Greg educates and equips individuals, families, business owners, and foundations with both traditional and leading-edge philanthropic tools and techniques for smart, meaningful, and impactful giving. You can contact Greg at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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If you are interested in learning more about Aspire to Give®'s pursuit to advance philanthropy through donor-focused education, social innovation, collaboration, and advocacy, please reach out to Greg Doepke: Greg@AspiretoGive.com

Disclosure: Greg Doepke is the founder and principal of Aspire to Give®, a social enterprise that donates 100% of all profits to charity and is dedicated to unleashing the human spirit to advance philanthropy through donor education, social innovation, collaboration, and advocacy.
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