‘Tis The Giving Season

Those of you who have the misfortune of being included in my social networks know that I recently polled folks to gain an understanding of your charitable endeavors.  After all, it is the giving season.  That time of year when we are encouraged to be less self-centered and more giving of our time and resources to others.  ManUp Hominids and take the Joe Lee giving challenge!

Your Responses

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” ~ Proverbs 11:25. Try not to choke on the fact that I used a biblical quote.  I was encouraged to see diversity among the nonprofits listed in your responses.  They ranged from arts organizations to social service agencies to nonprofit healthcare and research.  And while the size of organizations ranged from small to large, those organizations with national appeal and recognizable brands were most common.  They have the resources to effectively market their services and causes and help shape public policy, while smaller nonprofits struggle for operating funds and recognition.  
The National Center for Charitable Statistics estimates that there are some 1.5 million nonprofits in the U.S.. The number is even larger when you consider small organizations that don’t file IRS 990 reports.  Nonprofits are a vital force in our society that serve the public good often where gaps in service exist between the business and government sectors.

The Effects of Giving

“Wait a minute Joe Lee.  I thought your blog was about self-improvement!”  It is!  We’ve all heard that “giving makes you feel good”.  Research and anecdotal information seem to support what many of us thought to be true.  I recently read a study, The Effects of Giving on Givers, by Sara Konrath (Institute For Social Research, University of Michigan and Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center) and Stephanie Brown (Stony Brook University Medical Center and Institute For Social Research at the University of Michigan) that examines many studies and research work conducted around this subject.  And while they concluded that researchers need to move beyond the simplistic question of whether or not giving has health benefits for the giver, many of the studies examined show consistent correlations between giving and well-being.
Giving time and money to organizations ~ research shows correlational links between making charitable donations and psychological well-being.  Volunteers who donate their time for “other-oriented” reasons like compassion, experience a significant reduction in mortality risk while “self-oriented” giving (those who volunteer to learn a new skill or feel good about themselves) sees no reduction in risk.
Giving social support ~ several correlational studies find that giving social support to others (friends & family) is associated with higher psychological well-being such as more happiness, increased self-esteem and less loneliness.  Giving in this case can include taking care of elderly relatives or a disabled friend.
Compassionate attitudes and traits ~ a number of correlational studies find that people who score high in empathy or compassion have lower stress, anxiety, hopelessness, and depression.  Who can’t use a little less hopelessness, right?
My take-away is that the key to gaining some of these benefits lies in “other-oriented” (e.g. compassion) giving.  That is giving for reasons other than personal gain or obligation. 

  The Joe Lee Challenge

Your next assignment Hominids (should you choose to accept) is to give of your time or resources for causes that you believe in.  Please select one and get to work.
  1. If you currently give to nonprofits, your challenge is to seek out a new, smaller nonprofit that provides services that address issues in your community that you are concerned about or an arts organization that shares your interest and passion for art.
  2. If you don’t currently give, find a nonprofit that provides services that you value, learn about their programs and make a gift.
  3. Teach your children the joys of giving to others.  Have your child assist with writing the check and explain what that nonprofit does, volunteer as a family, have them donate their own funds, etc.
  4. Join a nonprofit board.
  5. Volunteer your time.
These don’t count:
  1. Don’t drop your old funky clothes off at the Rescue Mission to make room in your closet for all the cool holiday gifts you are going to receive.  If that is going to be your charitable donation, make an attempt to understand how the organization benefits from your donation, how it supports programming and whether or not it aligns with your values.
  2. Donating money for a tax write-off.  While the organization will certainly appreciate your gesture, you will forgo the benefits described above.  Give to what you are passionate about.  The tax write-off will be an automatic value-ad.
  3. Count your existing church tithing as meeting your challenge.  It’s has been a while since I have been allowed to enter a church, but, from what I understand, tithing is an obligation and, in using it, you lose the “other-oriented” giving classification.
As we give, we practice gratitude.  Gratitude for service to our community in the name of public good.  We don’t live on islands.  We live in communities.  The kind of work that needs to be done in order to allow humanity to reach a higher level must be done together.

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