Giving helps the giver

October 8, 2008

These days, organizations doing fund raising are acutely aware of the fact that poor economic conditions, or fear of such, can deter giving.  As we are embarking on a capital campaign, it’s certainly on our radar screen.  After doing a little research and talking with some fund raising professionals, it seems to me that if history is any example, people continue to give to causes that are important in their own minds and lives, despite the fact that it costs more to actually live our daily lives at the moment.

Donating to a worthy project has many benefits.  Recently I was reading a fascinating article by Economist Arthur C. Brooks about philanthropy.  His premise was that giving actually makes you rich.  Here is an excerpt of the article (click on the word “article” to read the entire article):

…Emerging evidence—crunchy statistics from real data, not the mushy self-help stuff—supports the contention that giving stimulates prosperity, for both individuals and nations. Charity, it appears, can really make you rich.

…This is precisely what is found in the S.C.C.B.S. data: More giving doesn’t just correlate with higher income; it causes higher income. And not just a little. Imagine two families that are identical in size, age, race, education, religion, and politics. The only difference is that this year the first family gives away $100 more than the second. Based on my analysis of the S.C.C.B.S. survey, the first family will, on average, earn $375 more as a result of its generosity.

How can this be? Is it a statistical anomaly—or even a metaphysical phenomenon…Psychologists and neuroscientists have identified several ways that giving makes us more effective and successful. For example, new research from the University of Oregon finds that charity stimulates parts of the brain called the caudate nucleus and the nucleus accumbens, which are associated with meeting basic needs such as food and shelter—suggesting to the researchers that our brains know that giving is good for us. Experiments have also found that people are elevated by others into positions of leadership after they are witnessed behaving charitably.

…In short, giving plays a positive role in American economic growth. It is a good investment for our country. Some might even go so far as to say that donating to charity is a patriotic act.

I’ve always known that to be true for myself on some basic level.  (Although my definition of “rich” isn’t necessarily simply money.)  How else could I explain the feeling of strength I’ve had when I’ve walked out of the blood donation center or finished my laps at Relay for Life?  In theory, after the physical toll, I should most certainly not be feeling better.  But I do.  And when I write the check for my membership in Friends of the Library, work at the Rotary pancake breakfast, read with an inmate through the Jefferson County Literacy Council, or give to my church or one of a number of other organizations that matter to me, I always feel mysteriously better.  I believe it’s true.  Giving helps the giver.

So I’ll leave you with a graphic (that is somewhat difficult to read due to the background, my apologies for that).  I find it beautiful and inspiring just the same.  I think it describes well an overall philosophy that people who give to others probably universally espouse.

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