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Philanthropy is a tenet of the utmost significance in society today. By engaging in altruistic endeavors, we are helping those who cannot help themselves. Yet, there is more to charity than meets the eye. In fact, although it may sound ironic, you may be benefitting yourself just as much or more than others when you give to the community at large. More specifically, recent studies suggest that donating to charity activates the same region of the brain that is activated during pleasurable events.

During a survey performed by Dunn of the University of British Columbia, Aknin of Simon Fraser University, and Norton of Harvard Business School, a sample size of individuals was split into four different groups. The first group was given five dollars to spend on themselves. The second group received twenty dollars to purchase something for themselves. The third group was handed five dollars and told to spend it on others. The fourth and final group was given twenty dollars to spend and was also told to use it generously like the third group.

Following the experiment, the participants were handed a survey and asked to report their levels of happiness. What followed was that the groups of people who spent money on others actually reported much higher levels of happiness! What’s more, is that the difference in the levels of happiness reported between the group who spent five dollars on others and those who spent twenty on others was negligible. It is therefore the act of giving itself rather than the amount given that makes us happy.This realization (if the sample size and experiment can be applied to a larger group) could hold enormous implications for the charitable industry as a whole.

The research above suggests that people at all socioeconomic levels derive happiness from giving.  Middle-income and even lower-income families are probably giving back to society in more ways than we realize because the media typically focuses on incredibly wealthy angel investors/contributor gifting very large sums.  In fact, according to, not only is charitable giving at an all-time high but 72% of funds given are from individuals (as opposed to foundations and corporations).

-It is estimated total charitable contributions will total between $21.2 to $55.4 trillion in between 1998-2052 (Source).

-98.4% of high net worth households give to charity (Source).

-Americans gave $358.38 billion in 2014. This reflects a 7.1% increase from 2013 (Source).

One of our clients picked up on this notion some time ago and wanted to find a way to make it easier for donors of these smaller amounts to contribute to ideas in the healthcare and education space and for projects that would typically only be shown to wealthy donors. Our client wanted people who are only able to donate smaller amounts to not only benefit from the act of giving but to increase their level of satisfaction by being able to donate to areas previously only available to larger donors. For instance, typical contributions to HIV/AIDS research are likely in large sizes of $250,000 and upwards from large organizations but offering a lower income person the opportunity to contribute $5 towards a fund that finances research in this area could increase his or her satisfaction from the feeling of becoming a part a significant social cause. While I cannot share the complete concept here I do find it gratifying that research suggests our client is moving in the right direction. Interestingly enough, the very act of trying to increase donor satisfaction is likely also increasing our client’s own level of happiness!

Of course, donating to charity should never be self-serving, it does however pay to know how to get the most out of it; and it never hurts to maximize your own happiness. So what are you waiting for?