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Charitable Mistakes


Our recent blog post examining the differences between Fair Trade and charity was a conversation starter. We’re continuing our exploration of charitable endeavors in this week’s write-up.

Donating to charities is a wonderful thing, but what if you’re doing it wrong? If you’re one that donates to charitable causes, do you think about the choices you make when you write the check?

Studies show that when people are generous in spending on others, whether purchasing a gift, donating to a worthy cause, or volunteering our time, we tend to feel happier and more fulfilled. The effort put into the gesture is the value received by the giver. It’s this mindset that can limit charitable donations, sometimes simply handing over cash feels to easy to be worthwhile.

The Martyrdom Effect
This theory examines the principle behind significant effort vs. the perceived tradeoff. Studies show that when people are generous in spending on others, whether purchasing a gift, donating to a worthy cause, or volunteering our time, we tend to feel happier and more fulfilled. The effort put into the gesture is the value received by the giver. It’s this mindset that can limit charitable donations, sometimes simply handing over cash feels to easy to be worthwhile.

A study provided participants with scenarios of people earning various salaries who contributed to worthy causes either by volunteering or by monetary donations. Respondents found a wealthy banker who donated time to feed 100 people at a soup kitchen to be more admirable than a wealthy banker who donated money to feed 200 people at a soup kitchen.

The goal here is not to diminish the value of volunteering, it’s an important part of our modern culture to give back to those in need. Sometimes, however, organizations can further your impact with dollars and sometimes the most effective way to have the largest effect is also the easiest.

The Other-Nothing Neglect
Another theory examines generosity trade-offs. In this scenario, participants can either choose to receive $15 themselves or have $35 donated to a cause they care about.

It seems simple, but it was found the participants can have a difficult time understanding the capacity of their decision. $15 could buy them a nice lunch. $35 for an organization like Unicef could mean vaccinations for several children. It’s quick to consider what stands to be lost through generosity, but slower to consider what stands to be lost by selfishness.

The Unexpected Joy of Giving It can be widely assumed that generosity involves a certain amount of sacrifice; we give up something so that someone else who needs it more can be provided for. Would you believe that people can experience a larger boost in happiness when they spend on others vs. on themselves? The old saying of “giving is better than receiving” holds some truth!

These studies are a great reminder that considering the needs of others has a direct correlation on our own happiness. Humans are built with a sense that giving feels good, everyone wins when a worthy cause is supported. Not only does supporting causes important to us help our global community, it can help us as individuals as well.