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Financial Planning > Charitable Giving

Charitable Giving Bolsters Life Satisfaction, New Report Finds

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Does charitable giving lead to a happier life, and if so, what are the implications for donors and fundraisers?

A new study released by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute finds that people who give to charitable causes are happier than those who do not, regardless of their gender and marital status, and the more they give, the happier they are.

However, women and men experience the joy of giving in different ways, according to the WPI, part of Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.

Men get a bigger boost in happiness when they become donors, while women experience a greater increase when they give more of their income. In households where women drive or participate equally in charitable decisions, the entire family is happier.

“This research is heartening,” the WPI’s director Debra Mesch said in a statement. “We know that people experience greater life satisfaction when they have better health, lower stress levels and so forth.

“We now know that giving also adds to life satisfaction, not just for individuals but for their entire families.”

The research, which was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was based on data from the Lilly school’s Philanthropy Panel Study, a longitudinal survey of philanthropy in the U.S.

The WPI study is the eighth in a series of research reports, dating back to 2010, that focus on gender differences in giving to charitable organizations.

Key Findings

The research showed that giving to nonprofit groups was positively related to life satisfaction, defined as an overall assessment of feelings and attitudes about one’s life at a particular point in time, ranging on a scale from one (negative) to five (positive).

The more a household gave as a percentage of income, the greater its life satisfaction: 4.03 for donations greater than 2%, versus 3.91 for donations of 2% or less.

The study found that across marital status (single women, single men and married couples), charitable giving was positively related to a household’s life satisfaction:

  • Single male donors, 3.65, vs. non-donors, 3.47
  • Single female donors, 3.68, vs. non-donors, 3.57
  • Couples donors, 4.02, vs. non-donors, 3.88

In households where either the wife made charitable decisions or spouses made them jointly, life satisfaction increased with the percentage of household income given to charity.

Life satisfaction for wife-influenced households was significantly different across household income. In households where women drove charitable decisions and gave more than 2% of their incomes to charity, households that made less than $100,000 per year experienced more of a boost in life satisfaction from giving than those that made $100,000 or more.

For single men, just becoming a donor increased life satisfaction. When single men moved from non-donor to donor, their gain in life satisfaction was double that of single women and couples.

Moreover, no difference appeared when single men moved from lower to higher giving levels, whereas the impact of giving a greater percentage of income was stronger for single women than for married couples.

“Our research suggests that increasing understanding of how gender influences philanthropy will help unlock a new era of giving,” Una Osili, associate dean for research and international programs at the Lilly school, said in the statement.

“When nonprofit leaders are able to appreciate and adapt to the different ways that men, women and families derive happiness from giving, they can more effectively engage their donors, and donors will gain greater joy from their gifts.”

— Check out Historic Year for Giving, Says Schwab Charitable’s Kim Laughton on ThinkAdvisor.


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