The Business Benefits of Paying it Forward

When it comes to businesses giving back to their communities, volunteer programs don’t always have to be big or carefully orchestrated. Pay-it-forward initiatives are a case in point. Ever since the release of Catherine Ryan Hyde’s Pay It Forward novel in 1999 and the movie adaption in 2000, all types of businesses and their employees have witnessed the power of the pay-it-forward phenomenon in action.1

The beauty of the random acts of kindness associated with paying it forward is that they not only lift up the recipients of the good deeds—they also impact employees and can ultimately have a positive impact on corporate culture or the community at large. In fact, studies have shown that random, positive interactions often have chain reactions in social networks.2 Research has even shown that pay-it-forward interactions between employees can lead to more cooperative and successful company cultures.3

Putting the pay-it-forward idea into action

Let’s look at a few examples  of how businesses have paid it forward and what it’s meant to the people involved.

In Philadelphia, the owner of a pizza parlor offers a pay-it-forward option in support of homeless people. Customers simply add a slice to their order and have the option to write a message on a sticky note. Today, they donated thousands of slices of pizza. The pay-it-forward option not only helps address the food insecurity of homeless people, it has generated good will in the community and even beyond.4

In Cincinnati, a bank decided to pick up random customers’ tabs in local small businesses. Bank employees surprised the customers at the register, with the gesture delighting recipients and making a big difference in many people’s days.5

Some companies even take more formal approaches to pay-it-forward initiatives. For example, a major technology company started a program designed to help female entrepreneurs around the world. The goal was a woman in one of the company’s networks would help at least 10 women over the course of two years and that each woman who received helped would in turn help ten more women when they could.6

Small gestures, big impacts

The great thing about paying it forward is that there are limitless opportunities for surprising others and generating good will. Here at vcfo, as part of our 20th Anniversary Year activities, we’ve given each employee $100 that they can use to pay it forward however they want, with no strings attached. We’re really excited to hear stories about our employees’ experiences and what kinds of responses they get out in their communities. We’re planning on highlighting some of the best stories around Pay It Forward Day, which is on April 28th this year.

And if you like the idea of your business participating in Pay it Forward Day or just sponsoring some pay-it-forward activities, check out the Pay It Forward Day website, which includes ideas for businesses.7



1 About us, Pay It Forward Foundation.
2 Cooperative behavior cascades in human social networks, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 2010.
3 How Paying it Forward Can Help Your Company, Inc., July 7, 2014.
4 Pizza Shop, Customers Give Away 8,400 Slices To Philly’s Homeless, Huffpost Impact, February 27, 2015.
5 U.S. Bank ‘paying it forward’ in Cincinnati,, January 26, 2016.
6 Press Release: Dell launches Pay It Forward initiative to support one million female entrepreneurs by 2015, Dell, June 3, 2013.