The feelings around giving back

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Elizabeth Leis Newman
Elizabeth Leis Newman

Think about the times you have collected cans for a food drive or mailed a check to a national non-profit organization.

Now think of the times you gave the check directly to a friend involved in a specific charity, dropped a gift card in the purse of a specific employee with a note, or took a struggling friend out for lunch.

If the latest research is to be believed, you felt better in the second scenarios.

Researchers at Simon Fraser University; University of British Columbia, Vancouver; and Harvard Business School conducted three studies to evaluate the emotional benefits of giving to charity. They found that what they called “pro-social spending” means the giver becomes happier.

What this means for your organization's charitable arm is that people feel better when they give because they know someone connected to your group, rather than when they make an anonymous donation.

“Charities should strive to increase the interpersonal connection between donors and beneficiaries, such that donors experience an emotional boost from giving,” the authors wrote in an International Journal of Happiness and Development article, which can be read here. They cited an example where a relative was given a gift certificate to, which funds public school projects. The money went to a third-grade classroom for an art project, and the students and teachers sent hand-written thank-you notes to the relative.

(Let us pause for a moment to remember the importance of thank-you notes. Do it today, whether it's for the dinner party you attended, the housewarming gift you received or for the interview you landed.)

On a practical level, social giving means you need to re-examine both how you encourage employees to donate to a cause and how you seek community charity support for your seniors. This can be approached in a few ways. One, by making your employees advocates who can speak well to the charitable arm and two, by personalizing what your seniors may need. For example, if you have low-income residents with little or no family, you can seek out ways for them to be “adopted” by members of the community in the same way schools and social work departments have found success with Adopt-A-Family programs at the holidays. Having participated in this, I can attest to how it feels far better to buy 6-year-old Dwayne a Lego set, purple dress shirt and football than it does to anonymously donate a toy. If there is a hospice non-profit group affiliated with your facility, remember that donations feel the most meaningful when people feel connected to the families involved.

The bottom line: Social giving makes us happier and more connected to those around us. Use this knowledge when planning your philanthropy.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.