The Women’s Philanthropy Institute has launched Women Give 2017, a research study that seeks to not only understand the query, ‘does the joy of giving lead to a happier life?’ but also the questions ‘does the joy of giving affect all individuals and households equally’ and ‘does the impact of giving on overall happiness vary by gender?’
“We wanted to know the relationship between engaging in charitable giving and happiness,” said Dr. Debra Mesch, director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, Eileen Lamb O’Gara Chair in Women’s Philanthropy, and professor of philanthropic studies.
The researchers knew that household demographics have changed dramatically over the past 40 years and that women are making more and more of the chief financial decisions.
“We’ve seen women’s influence grow in their households, and we wanted to learn if that also impacted decision-making about charitable giving,” Dr. Mesch said.
And the findings?
“First, we found that giving makes us happy. There was a very significant, statistical difference in life happiness between donors and non-donors,” she said. “We also discovered that the higher percentage of income they’re giving, the happier people are. That’s the case across the demographic spectrum, whether it’s for single women, single men, or married couples.
“Then, we noticed a very interesting difference. We found that what increases men’s life happiness is the act of becoming a donor. It’s that switch from being a non-donor to a donor. However, that’s not the case for single women. For them, it’s not the switch from being a non-donor to a donor, but an increase in giving. When single women give more, they become happier.
“We also found that women are having more of an influence in charitable decision-making, and when they wield that influence, those households are giving more. With more influence on those charitable decisions, women are becoming more responsible for increasing household satisfaction.”
The implications are far-reaching. Dr. Mesch and Andrea Pactor, associate director of the Women’s Philanthropy Institute, noted how these findings will impact people.
“It illustrates that nonprofits specifically have to engage with men and women differently. For example, they have to develop ways to engage with single men in a way that encourages them to become donors,” Dr. Mesch said. “I think, though, that the overall story about people being happier after giving and volunteering will engage people. Giving and volunteering are ways for people to become happier, healthier, and less stressed out. These are empirical findings that support every-day experiences.”
Pactor added the draw of this research to other fields of study.
“You have all these other disciplines, including psychology, economics, health that are also exploring the core question of what makes us happy. Connecting to the other disciplines provides us the opportunity to reach new audiences and make an ever larger impact.”
Explore the Women Give 2017 research findings
Abby Rolland is the blog content coordinator for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.