The science of giving

holidays-giving2-180x75It was big news this week when Mark Zuckerberg, a co-founder and CEO of Facebook, announced that he would give 99 percent of his Facebook shares, currently valued at more than $45 billion, to charity.  Zuckerberg made the announcement on Giving Tuesday, a movement to spark charitable giving in response to the high levels of commercialization and consumerism in the post-Thanksgiving season.

On the whole, it’s a popular time of year for charitable donations. As we have previously written, some people 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 those who are 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.  And I hope it allows my kids to think about others.

All of this focus on giving has lead me to wonder, is there any new evidence on the benefits of charitable giving?

In 2014, Americans donated more than $358 billion dollars — the highest amount since before the recent recession, according to Giving USA, a nationwide study conducted by researchers at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

There is solid evidence that all of this giving is good for us.

  • A comprehensive review of more than 500 studies on why people give conducted by researchers at the University of Notre Dame drew some interesting conclusions. Giving is more common among people who are religious, have higher levels of education, own a home, are married, and live in smaller towns.  People are also more likely to give when they understand the need they are fulfilling and when they can relate to the cause they are supporting.
  • A separate study found that adult children are more likely to give if their parents are charitable.
  • Women are more likely to give than men, and more likely to spread their donations across a variety of causes. But men are more likely to donate to neighborhoods and communities.
  • A broad range of studies shows that helping others results in positive psychological effects for the helper. Separately, 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.

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 to the giver as the recipient.

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