“We make a living by what we get…but we make a life by what we give.”
Is it better to give or to receive? While most conversations about philanthropy focus on the many ways a donor’s gift will help others, there’s growing evidence that philanthropy benefits the giver at least as much as the recipient. This is news fundraisers can use to build a strong case for giving.
In the nonprofit world, asking for money is a fact of life. But many people—executive directors and other leaders, board members, and program staff—find the ‘ask’ unpleasant. It makes them feel as if they’re looking for a handout. The irony is they got into nonprofit work because of a cause they care deeply about, but now fundraising seems to take more time and energy than nurturing the cause itself.
These individuals might consider viewing fundraising in a different light, says Carolyn Sharaway, senior consultant at The Munshine Group. She learned about the importance of fundraising early in her career while working as a case manager at a group home. “We were not able to meet all the needs of our clients because of financial constraints,” she says. “That’s when I recognized the value of raising money and decided to become a fundraiser.”
Sharaway has worked with nonprofit leaders who lacked fundraising experience and avoided meeting with prospective donors because they didn’t see the value in it. “They preferred to talk about their programs rather than ask for a donation, and didn’t realize that conveying passion for programs is an important step in securing the resources that make them possible.”
She sees fundraising as a conduit, connecting people and their gifts to others who can use these gifts to spark positive change for those who need it most. Effective fundraisers create a well-matched partnership that offers great benefits to both parties. This partnership can take many forms. “Everyone has resources to give,” says Sharaway. “For some people, it’s money. Others give their time and talent as volunteers. It’s all about partnering for a common cause.” She has found inspiration from author and nonprofit consultant Lynne Twist, who explores and shares attitudes about money, philanthropy, and social justice.
Sharaway stresses the importance of communicating the many rewards of philanthropy to all potential donors. “When you support a cause you care about you see your money making a difference,” she says. “People who haven’t given before can see how fulfilling, necessary and impactful philanthropy can be.”
Scientific research supports the benefits of philanthropy to the giver. Psychologist Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkley has studied how positive emotions like empathy, altruism, kindness, and compassion promote ethical action and connect people to one another. “We’re learning that aspects of our nervous system make it inherently pleasurable to be generous to others,” he says. “Generosity releases dopamine, bringing a sense of pleasure and enthusiasm about life.” Another researcher, Mark Snyder, head of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota, has found that people who volunteer have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, happiness, and enhanced feelings of social connectedness.
For retired investment banker Harry Leopold of Sarasota, FL, philanthropy is a teachable moment. He takes great pleasure in supporting the arts, culture, and human service organizations in his community. Through his desire to share this experience with others he created a seminar series titled “Discover the Joy of Giving.” The seminar culminates in charitable donations to local nonprofits. “It’s really wonderful to see the results of your giving five or ten years from now,” says Leopold. “You feel so good about what you’ve accomplished.”
So as a fundraiser, you’re not seeking a handout at all, says Sharaway: “You’re putting your hand out to shake hands as you create partnerships that transform lives.”