Free Tampons at Ross Business School

Yesterday, I spoke before the American Business Women’s Association, for their Leadership Day. My topic: Making a Living vs. Building a Life.

The day-long seminar took place at the University of Michigan’s Ross Business School. Three garbage cans lined the walls – one for trash, one for recyclables and one for compost. The beverage station offered organic teas and lemon slices for hot water along with the requisite coffee.

And in the bathrooms, where the toilets had environmentally-sound flushing mechanisms to control the amount of water used, there were dispensers on the wall to give patrons free feminine products.


In every bathroom I’ve ever been in before yesterday, tampons and pads were for sale in locked-up metal contraptions. You put in a coin or several, and turned the crank, and out came whatever you needed.

Not here. They were utterly free – take one. It’s yours. No need to exchange money or energy or even ask for it. Just take it.

You may be thinking, so what’s the big deal? Worth writing a blog about, really?

It is. For the simple reason that it was a sound business decision. Here’s my thinking: you give away things that make people feel taken care of. You don’t expect anything in return.

What you get in return is loyalty. Appreciation. The start of a relationship.

Time after time, I tell my public relations clients that you have to give to receive. In business, we put ourselves out there and make the first step toward building a long-lasting relationship that is mutually beneficial.

We don’t do it by saying, I’m great and I want your money so give it to me.

We do it by giving of ourselves, and our skills and talents and services or products. And then we trust in things we can’t see but know are there, that our gesture will be repaid by another gesture and we will go back and forth toward the ultimate goal, which is growth for everyone.

It’s not that big a deal for the University of Michigan to give away free tampons and pads. Really, if you do the math, in the scheme of a year, perhaps they pay $100 to keep those wall units full. That’s a nominal business expense.

But the gesture goes a very long way to making people feel truly cared for. The fact that nowhere else can you get this stuff for free means it will be recognized, even if it’s not used by every woman who walks into the bathroom. I can attest that yesterday, my friend and I remarked on it the minute we noticed it in the bathroom.

Little gestures go a long way. And when you’re the first to make one, you set the bar high and deserve notice for it.

It’s not as special when you decide to follow the other person’s initiative and begrudgingly say, fine, I’ll offer something for free.

So many times, I’ve heard people grumble over having to speak for free or offer a service for free or do anything without immediate compensation.

All I have to say to that is: Get Over Yourself.

The point is not to make money. The money will come. It just happens. And everyone will be cared for and fine in the end.

The point is to be remarkable. To make a difference in the world. To make the world a better place.

And you don’t do that by holding on tight and never giving to anyone else.

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