The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

The Science of Giving: Does giving make you happy?

There’s a new book out with incredibly fascinating insights for all nonprofit marketing and fundraising folks. It’s called The Science of Giving, and it catalogs a range of seminal studies about giving psychology. The content is amazing, though it’s written in academic language, with sentences like: “Analyses of how empathic versus mood management feelings were related to donation decisions confirmed findings from Study 1.” I’m afraid this dryness and its hefty cost ($75) might deter people. That would be a shame, because the findings are so important.

In fact, I think this book is so packed with gems, I’m blogging all of the 14 studies in the book this month. I will be your Cliff Notes for this classic.

Today’s topic: feeling good about giving.

In this first chapter, Lalin Anik, Lara Aknin, Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn review the research on:

1. Does giving make you happy?
2. Do happy people give more?
3. Does focusing on payback from giving help inspire more giving? Can you raise more money if you highlight that giving brings you benefits?

Here’s what they found.

1. Giving makes you happy. People who committed random acts of kindness were significantly happier than those who didn’t, and spending money on others makes you happier than spending money on yourself.
2. Happier people help others more, and they give more. A positive mood makes you nicer!
3. This makes a circle: giving makes you happy, and when you’re happy you give more, which makes you happier, which makes you give more.
4. If you highlight the payback of giving, it can help or hurt. Incentive-based appeals and gifts to donors seem to crowd out the inherent, altruistic motivation of those donors. Sending out something like a tote bag might actually detract from the warm-fuzzy a donor felt when they gave – and make them less altruistic in the future. In other words, if you train people to react to a market norm, they lose the social norm. For example, a matching gift campaign elevated giving short term – but depressed giving over time. That said, reminding people of the happiness that giving provides them DOES have a good effect on generosity.

The bottom line? Make giving about the feelings – happy ones – that come from genuine generosity.

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About This Blog
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Caryn Stein
Vice President, Communications and Content, Network for Good

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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