Giving Is Good For You!

If you head out shopping this weekend, you will likely see an iconic bell ringer, standing next to a basket or bucket to collect donations for a local charity.

On the whole, it’s a popular time of year for charitable donations. 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.

All of this focus on giving has lead me to wonder, do those donations make a difference in people’s lives?  And what is the effect on the giver?

In 2016, Americans donated more than $390 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 those donations make a tangible difference in environmental and animal charities; arts, culture and humanities organizations; international affairs nonprofits; and health organizations.

In 2016, giving by individuals grew at a faster pace compared to giving by foundations and corporations, according to the study.  “In 2016, we saw something of a democratization of philanthropy,” said Patrick M. Rooney, Ph.D., associate dean for academic affairs and research at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and one of the study authors. “The strong growth in individual giving may be less attributable to the largest of the large gifts, which were not as robust as we have seen in some prior years, suggesting that more of that growth in 2016 may have come from giving by donors among the general population compared to recent years.”

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.

And – as a bonus – it turns out there is solid evidence that givers experience benefits themselves.

A study this year funded by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute found that giving is positively related to life satisfaction, and the more people give (as a percentage of their household income) the more satisfaction they feel. A 2008 study conducted by researchers from Harvard and the University of British Columbia found that spending money on others leads to lasting improvements in people’s overall happiness.

A longitudinal study by researchers at the University of Buffalo found that people who engaged in helping behaviors with their neighbors and friends, such as running errands, cooking meals, or providing child care, reduced their mortality rates compared with those who did not help.

And a 2007 study published in the journal Science found donating to a 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.

As you gather with friends and family this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, 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 to the recipient.

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