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Consider Practicing Some Thanksgiving Gratitude

A 'suspended coffee' means more than you know

By Bob Harris, CAE

Suspended Coffee

In Italy, there is a tradition that reminds me of the positive impact of associations and chambers in America. It is the practice of “caffe sospeso.” 

A caffe sospeso, or suspended coffee, is a cup of coffee paid for in advance as an anonymous act of charity. The tradition began in the working-class cafés of Naples. When customers buy coffee, they also pay in advance for a cup to be given to somebody else -- usually someone who otherwise couldn't afford it.

When you purchase a suspended coffee, you are expressing care for somebody anonymously and also preserving their dignity. They benefit with a coffee or meal without having to ask for help. It is not up to us to judge who will get the coffee. 

Practiced in the USA

Sometimes, you find similar practices in the U.S.A. At the Starbucks drive-through, the barista said, “the car in front of you paid for your coffee.” To continue the positivity, I then paid for the car behind me.

In Heber Springs, Arkansas, the Jitterbug Coffee Shop has a large blackboard titled, PAY IT FORWARD. Pay it forward was the title of a movie with a positive message. It is an expression for when the recipient of an act of kindness does something nice for someone else rather than simply accepting or repaying the original good deed.

At the Jitterbug Coffee Shop, the notes on the board read, “THANK YOU, NURSES, I’VE PAID FOR YOUR COFFEE,” and “ANY TEACHER, YOUR COFFEE HAS BEEN PREPAID BY AN ANONYMOUS DONOR.” The board was full with no to room to add new suspended coffees or meals.    

Associations and Chambers

It makes me think of the volunteer leaders who work to improve their community, cause, trade or profession. Selflessly, they focus on the future, working to improve society. They don’t ask who will benefit but work for the good of a cause. They don’t expect compensation or require recognition.

Examples include raising funds for a community shelter; scholarships to help students; helping businesses prosper, in turn improving employment and economy. And setting standards of safety for the public.

America’s 1.5 million nonprofit associations and chambers are paying it forward; thus, creating a better future for people they don’t yet know.

The concept of paying for a coffee to benefit another person started in Italy. The concept of nonprofit organizations building a better future for others is the greatness of America.

About the author:
Bob Harris, CAE, provides free governing tips and tools at

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