Why Giving Matters

Researchers at Harvard University collected data on 30,000 American families from 41 communities coast to coast in a comprehensive look at people’s service behavior and charitable giving.  Researchers came up with the following counterintuitive finding—that when people give more money away, they tend to prosper. Specifically, here’s what they found: Say you have two identical families—same religion, same race, same number of kids, same town, same level of education—everything’s the same, except that one family gives $100 more to charity than the second family. Then the giving family will earn on average $375 more in income than the non-giving family—and that’s statistically attributable to the gift. Now I was perplexed. The data completely contradicted the theory that you had to be rich to give. So they recrunched the numbers with new set of data, But they kept coming up with the same thing. They ran the numbers again and looked at volunteering. They found the same thing: People who volunteer do better financially. They ran the numbers on blood donations. Think about that—giving blood. You’re not going to get richer if you give blood, are you? Well, yes, you are.

Happiness is the secret to success. Charity brings happiness, and happiness brings success. People who give to charity are 43 percent more likely than people who don’t give to say they’re very happy people. People who give blood are twice as likely to say they’re very happy people as people who don’t. People who volunteer are happier. You simply can’t find any kind of service that won’t make you happier. Studies show that when people give, it lowers their levels of stress. People who do their jobs with less stress tend to be more productive and successful. Throughout our lives, if we can find ways to relax, we will profit from it.

A study from the University of Kent in southern England was dedicated to figuring out how people perceive givers. Researchers conducted an experiment called a “cooperation game” in which a group of people were given a small amount of money and asked to contribute to a common fund. Next, the researchers doubled the common fund and passed it out equally among the participants. In this game, the best thing for everybody to do is to put in all of their money and have it doubled. But if you’re crafty, rather than cooperate you’ll be tempted to hold back all your money when everybody else puts in theirs. That means that you get your own money and a chunk of everybody else’s. And as the experiment showed, there is always a proportion of people who opt to do so. But then the researchers conducted a second phase of the experiment in which the participants had to break up into teams and elect leaders. They found that 82 percent of the leaders who were elected were the biggest givers from the first phase. The study concludes that when people see strangers giving charitably, they recognize a leadership quality in those strangers. If people witness you as a giver, they will see a leader. Servant leadership is a secret to success, whether you’re looking for success or not. When people see you giving and cooperating and serving others, they will see in you a leader, or a future leader, and they cannot help but help you. Many other studies show that givers have better health, that givers are better citizens—it goes on and on. The bottom line is this: Givers are healthier, happier, and richer in this country—and probably around the world. Giving creates stronger communities and a more prosperous nation.

This is an abridged version of a speech given by Arthur brooks at Brigham Young University on Feb. 24th, 2009.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *