The paradox of growth and giving: Critical case sampling to illuminate the catalytic potential of an underresearched phenomenon

Elizabeth A. Castillo, Jennifer A. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The paradox of growth and giving is that, for a philanthropic gift to be of maximum use, both the donor and the nonprofit client must grow. The client's growth is frequently measured through program outcomes. The donor's growth is rarely addressed, but it can be measured by the cognitive complexity with which the donor approaches the problem. This qualitative study used constructive developmental theory and critical case sampling to identify and describe the three possible patterns in cognitive complexity: meaning making more complex in work than in philanthropy, equal in both domains, or more complex in philanthropy than in work. For each participant, we identified a developmental growth edge that, if pursued, would improve their philanthropic impact. Findings suggest that donors' cognitive complexity structures how they approach philanthropy and can be variable (context dependent). Participants were not aware of the extent to which philanthropy could also be a growth opportunity for themselves. This lack of awareness impedes their own growth potential and, thus, the potential of their philanthropic gifts. We discuss theoretical and practical implications for philanthropy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1648
JournalInternational Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Strategy and Management
  • Marketing

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