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Study: People Happier When They Give

Study: People Happier When They Give
- Andy Segedin, The Nonprofit Times

Front-line fundraisers can stop holding their breath and crossing their fingers. Donors really are happier than non-donors. What’s more, happiness tends to increase as one donates greater portions of his or her income.

Donors’ life satisfaction, on a scale from one to five, stands at 3.95 as compared to 3.75 for non-donors, according to Women Give 2017, a new report from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy located at Indiana University, Indianapolis. The study is based off of Philanthropy Panel Study (PPS) data from 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015 – years in which life satisfaction data was collected. Multi-year data for 10,735 individuals serve as the basis for the report.

One of the key findings in the report related to the switching point for an increase in life satisfaction among men and women, according to Debra Mesch, professor and director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute. Single men saw a 0.18-point increase (3.47 to 3.65) when going from not giving to giving as compared to a rise of 0.11 (3.57 to 3.68) for single women, and 0.14 (3.88 to 4.02) for couples.

Women, on the other hand, experienced larger spikes when giving more. Single women who gave more than 2 percent of their income to charity reported a life satisfaction of 3.75 — 0.12 points above women who gave 2 percent or less. Men, on the other hand, saw just a 0.02 increase (3.64 o 3.66) when giving more than 2 percent of income to charities. Couples saw the greatest increase in happiness when giving more, 0.13 (3.97 to 4.10).

One hypothesis for this difference in switching points, according to Mesch, might be that women are inherently more likely to give than men and so their starting point is higher. Another explanation might be based on reasons why men and women give. Men are typically more self-interested in motivation, giving feeding into their ego and making them feel good. Women tend to be more empathetic and altruistic in their giving behavior, making it more likely that they are motivated by degree of giving, Mesch said.

Another key finding in the report is the greater rate of happiness among couples in which the wife leads philanthropic decision-making as opposed to the husband, proving once and for all that what is good for the goose really is good for the gander. Married couples with husband-led giving behaviors averaged a life satisfaction of 4.02 when giving 2 percent or less of income to charity and 4.09 when giving more. Women-led households, on the other hand, averaged a life satisfaction of 4.04 when giving 2 percent or less of income and 4.17 when giving more.

Mesch recommends using the differing trigger points among men and women to inform fundraising strategies. Knowing that men are happier when they first start to give, fundraising shops might consider experimenting with messaging and networks that single men might gravitate toward. Men tend to be motivated by social norms and peer behavior. How might an organization tap into those values? Women, on the other hand, are more interested in deep engagement. Targeting existing female donors with stories and requests to increase gifts might be a sound strategy.

“It’s the joy of giving, fundraisers are in the business of explaining the joy of giving with donors they work with,” Mesch said. “Donors may appreciate that charitable giving makes you a happier family.”

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