‘Tis the season: Who gives and why?

Happy Holidays from all of us at EBL.  We’re signing off until the New Year.  In the
meantime, we’re reposting this piece on charitable giving.

It’s that time of year when many people think about giving to charities. Some make donations for tax-purposes before the end of the calendar year.  Others incorporate giving into Christmas traditions, or make an effort to spread some holiday cheer to the less fortunate.
 My family has a custom of sponsoring a needy child every Christmas.  We all go out shopping for clothes and toys, wrap the presents, and drop them off to be delivered to the child’s family. For me, the tradition is an important part of celebrating the holiday. It makes me feel good to know that I’m helping another family at a time of year when it’s so easy to focus on material things.

There are thousands of organizations and millions of people across the country that depend on the charity of others.  But do we know anything about what make people give?  Is there any evidence that being charitable provides benefits for the giver as well?

An initiative at the University of Notre Dame called the Science of Generosity is looking into just that. It’s uniting researchers across a wide range of disciplines including economics, social psychology, neurology, anthropology and biology to study why people are generous, how people express their generosity, and the impact of giving on both donors and recipients.

Among the initiative’s publications is a comprehensive review of more than 500 studies on why people give.

The evidence shows there are some general trends about the type of people who make donations. Giving is positively related to religious beliefs, higher levels of education, home ownership, marriage and living in smaller towns.  People are more likely to give when they understand the need they are fulfilling and when they can relate to the cause they are supporting.

What about benefits for the giver? The review cites a host of studies showing that helping others bestows positive psychological effects on the helper, or what economists call “warm glow” and “joy of giving.” Recent neuropsychological research shows that donating to charity activates neural activity in areas of the brain that are linked to reward processing – the same areas that are activated by pleasures like eating and sex. Studies suggest that even small donations spark these pleasurable psychological experiences as a result of giving.

So as the Christmas holiday approaches and the end of the year draws near, think about finding a way to share some of what you have with others. The bottom line is that giving provides as many benefits the giver as the recipient of gift.

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