A new study helps explain an irony of modern times: increasing wealth does not necessarily make people happier. Psychologists found the greatest joys of all can be attained by giving money away. "People who donate their dollars to charities or splurge on gifts for others are more content than those who squander all the dough on themselves," says the study's author (social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada). Defying what most economists believe, Ms. Dunn reports: "The effects of altruistic spending are probably akin to those of exercise ….which can have immediate and long-term effects. Giving once might make a person happy for a day, but if it becomes a way of living, then it could make a lasting difference."
There is a wealth-happiness connection but apparently it is weaker than the lasting cheer that comes from giving to others. Long-time ZimNotes readers know that "People Love To Give Away Money." This is one of Zimmerman Lehman's fifteen rules of fundraising. We wrote about it in our book (Boards That Love Fundraising) and Bob Zimmerman talks about it regularly when he does trainings to get Board members over their fears of fundraising. We even have a former ZimNotes article called "Giving is Good for You," in which we cited a previous study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke demonstrating that giving brings contentment.
Perhaps you're thinking that your donors don't care about being happy; they care instead about living longer. An article in the Spring, 2008 Kaiser Permanente "Partners in Health" magazine reports on another study indicating that giving reduces the odds of an early death by nearly 60% compared with those who didn't lend a helping hand. "Making a contribution to the lives of other people may help to extend our own lives," says the lead author, Stephanie Brown, a psychologist at the Institute for Social Research. For the study, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, Brown analyzed data on 423 older couples for five years. Receiving help from others was not linked to a reduced risk of mortality, but giving promoted longevity. This confirms that those who have a generous spirit and an altruistic instinct for helping others live happier and longer lives.
So what does this mean for the typical nonprofit? It is confirms what fundraisers know intuitively but board members need to understand: Giving donors the opportunity to invest in your successful organization is in reality doing them a favor--just like offering a tip on investing in a successful for-profit enterprise. Once board members believe this, they will be much more comfortable about raising the funds to guarantee your organization's financial health.
P.S. If your board needs convincing to do more fundraising, give us a call at 415.986.8330 or 800.886.8330. Now we can use science to convince them!
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