12/10/2012 08:18 pm ET Updated Feb 09, 2013

Generosity Without Expectation

My 11-year-old stepdaughter attends a middle school for the performing arts in New York City. Recently, I wanted to do something special for her so I bought us pricey, third-row tickets to see the musical Jersey Boys. She loves music and dance and I figured this was a no-brainer. As I hit "Purchase Tickets" I felt a glow of happiness. I pictured myself surprising her with the news and the two of us having a magical day together.

The morning of the show, I walked into her room bursting at the seams with the news, singing "Oh What a Night" into a hairbrush. She looked up from her iPad and said: "Jersey Boys? Seriously?" I wanted to joke that Big Girls Don't Cry, but now understood she would translate this literally and likely be offended. I was deflated. She wasn't happy. This was not going as planned.

She said Jersey Boys was too old for her, she didn't know the music, and she didn't want to spend her Saturday afternoon that way.

After not heeding my own advice and laying on some sales-oriented cajoling, we did ultimately go. She got less grumpy especially after her Nutella crepe (I was in full-bribe mode), but in the end she really didn't like the show. She said it was corny and she didn't like being one of the only kids there.

After, I realized that my disappointment was coming from a place of expectation. I believed she should be grateful and happy with my gift, but the truth is, that isn't real generosity.

True generosity is relationship. Not what I can do for you, but what can we do together. It's one of the central tenets of Exponential Fundraising. As a mutual discovery it is never disappointing. We are growing together, me to you and you to me. It's not coming from a place of personal motivation or gain.

I promised my stepdaughter that the next time I had an urge to do something like this that I'd talk with her before so we could discuss what we'd both like to see and experience together. I told her it may take some "nudging" on my part. She may not like the thought of going to see an Off-Off-Broadway production of Brecht, but she can be open to my invitation to experience new things, without feeling any pressure from me that she should do or like it. Similarly, I asked her to push me on new experiences as well. She has access to inventive new music, theater and dance and I want her to expose me to it, without any expectation on her part either. This is generosity. This is mutual growth and discovery.

My favorite musical at 11 was Grease. I can still hear Frankie singing personally to me in his soaring Soprano voice: "We got a lovin' thing, we gotta feed it right."