Tips for Jesus: Generosity at the Holidays


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Generosity is more likely if someone is watching. Image by mensatic.

Generosity is more likely if someone is watching. Image by mensatic.

What waiter or waitress wouldn’t like a big tip?  How about one that is hundreds or even thousands of dollars more than expected?  And in time for the holidays?

The “Tips for Jesus” phenomenon has astounded hard-working wait staff and caddies.  Eighteen lucky recipients  have pocketed big tips in communities from South Bend, Indiana to Ogden, Utah. The person behind the giving may be a sports fan with a big wallet, who likes golf and football; the giving coincided with Notre Dame and Trojan football games.

One of the reasons the individual behind “Tips for Jesus” intrigues us it that his behavior (reportedly, the tipper is a younger male), while outsized, actually demonstrates some scientific findings about the nature of generosity.

Generosity, Eyespots and Reputation Formation

While gifts are often given anonymously, researchers have found that humans are much more likely to be generous if they believe someone is watching.  In fact, research by Kevin Haley Daniel Fessler from the University of California even drawing of eyes, or “eyespots” in prominent places have been found to increase the amount of money individuals will share in some scenarios.

People are aware of “reputation formation.”  In this sense, while not hanging around to soak up thanks, the “Tips for Jesus” benefactor has also chosen to give in a manner that will attract attention, and build a reputation. Fox News reports that the tipper’s identity might be revealed soon due to all the media attention the gifts have garnered. The tipper even posts copies of his American Express receipts on an Instagram account labeled “‘Doing the Lord’s work, one tip at a time.’”

Generosity and Religiosity

With the moniker “Tips for Jesus” the giver is upfront about having a religious agenda.  Recent research cited by Alex Daniels in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, religious individuals are more likely to part with cash: ” 65 percent give to charity. Among those who do not identify a religious creed, 56 percent make charitable gifts.”

While the  super donor may be religious, the seemingly capricious nature of his giving is not typical. According to Alex Daniels, the three top charitable causes are “basic social services, “combined purpose” organizations (like United Way), and health care.”  Generous tipping of wait staff with no strings attached doesn’t make the list.

Generosity and Taxes

In fact, Tips for Jesus doesn’t seem to care that he won’t score a big tax deduction for all his philanthropy.  While wait staff may be needy, big tips aren’t tax deductible.  The Chronicle of Philanthropy has noted that “State policies that promote giving can make a significant difference. At least 13 states now offer special tax benefits to charity donors.”  Evidently, filing taxes is not high on Tips for Jesus’ priority list.

Tips for Jesus: Who’s Watching, Who’s Paying?

MSN reports that Tips for Jesus is “accelerating his ultra-gratuity campaign as Christmas approaches.”  In light of the research on generosity, it will be interesting to find out who the Big Tipper is trying to impress, if and when he unveils his identity. Regardless, maybe you or someone you know, will benefit from this Tips for Jesus’s generosity.  Even if you aren’t tax deductible.

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