I’ll never forget the story a donor told me when I was just getting started as a young development professional. She loved giving! Loved it! I was amazed by how much joy it gave her. As a matter of fact, she loved it more than any other activities she was involved in. That story changed my career and the entire way I thought about fundraising and development.
Little did I know about the endorphins that apparently were being released as my friend and donor was supporting an institution where she felt strongly connected.
Have you ever asked the donors you are working with how giving makes them feel? If you haven’t, give it a try. That conversation will very likely open a new side of your relationship with that donor and your understanding of the motivation that drives his or her gift.
So, why do people give?
There are a multitude of reasons people give. Perhaps, it is out of loyalty to another person, the memories of experiences as a student, gratitude for what an education or a cure made possible, the hope of a better life for others, civic pride in the community and the need to make it better, or the competition of seeing what one’s peers are giving. Or, perhaps the gift is driven by the opportunity to bring meaning to the donor’s life. Sure, the tax advantages are nice, but the lure of a tax deduction rarely ranks at the very top of the list of reasons by any of the donors I’ve worked with.
Researchers from Business Schools to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have delved into the connections between giving and happiness, and even neuroscience. There appears to be a correlation between happiness and acts of generosity—giving money away—even more so than spending it on oneself! In fact, scientists at the NIH found that giving money to charities activates a region of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust. All good stuff.
Other scientists at Johns Hopkins and the University of Tennessee found that charitable giving helps to decrease stress while enhancing feelings of social connectedness and bringing a physiological benefit to those who give. These altruistic behaviors seem to release endorphins, producing positive feelings. How cool is that!
Those feelings of happiness seem to be further enhanced when giving promotes and facilitates social connection. Knowing that a friend is connected to the organization, or better yet, the friend asks for the gift, improves the likelihood that the gift will be made and makes the donor feel better about the gift. In this particular study, the link between giving and happiness was strongest when the donor was giving to someone personally connected to the charity. 
As good development professionals, we all know that people give to people. That’s fundraising 101. But, did we know that it would also make the donor happier?
Year-end giving is upon us. What lessons can you take from the connections between happiness, social connection, healthy living and giving? There are many!
Here are a few suggestions for steps you can take that link happiness, social connection and giving:
1. Make sure your Development Committee members understand the importance of their role and their influence in asking for gifts and the donor’s happiness!
2. Give your Development Committee a script as they prepare to call on prospects, and make sure it emphasizes the personal connection. Below are just a few examples:
- “Joe, Memorial Hospital is really important to me. I know the hospital has been just as important to you and your family. It would mean a lot to me if you will carefully consider joining me by participating with your own gift.”
- “Sarah, I can’t tell you enough how much it has meant to our family to be a part of this hospital and its campaign. I know this campaign is really going to make a difference for my family and for others like yours. I want to invite you to join me in a meeting and tour with the President to learn more about the hospital's programs. It would mean a lot to me to have your interest and support too. Can we arrange a time to get together?”
- “Mary, there are few things that have given me more joy than knowing that Memorial Hospital is making groundbreaking discoveries that my gifts are helping make possible. I hope you will come with me to the hospital to meet some of the doctors and scientists and hear about what they are doing. I hope you will want to participate too.”
Our next blog will explore the psychology of giving through meaning in life and meaningful giving. Stay tuned!