Volunteering and Philanthropy This Emotional Life on PBS

Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Altruism

		

Types of giving

Volunteering is a mutually beneficial relationship, so much so that some describe the benefits as a “helper’s high.”

Research supports the notion that once people have enough to meet their needs comfortably, more money doesn’t buy happiness. There may be an exception to this. Giving money away may indeed increase the donor’s happiness.

Volunteering

Volunteering

A neighbor or worthy cause benefits from your time and talents.

Benefits you receive from giving:

  • Skills, experience, and networking that can help your career
  • Increased self-worth and self-confidence
  • A stronger sense of community
  • New friends
  • Personal mastery and sense of being in control
  • The opportunity to advance a cause you care about
  • Feeling needed and valued
  • Experiencing something new

Experiencing all of these benefits comes easier when there’s a good fit between you, the activity, and the organization or person you’re volunteering for.

Suggestions for finding a good match:

  • Choose a cause that matters deeply to you
  • Think about the skills and talents you want to use; do you want to use the same skills you’ve honed at work? Or are you looking for a chance to exercise talents you don’t use every day? Or do you want to learn new skills?
  • Communicate clearly about how much time you can contribute; don’t overcommit
  • Take advantage of any training or professional development opportunities you receive while volunteering—and express your gratitude for them

In 2007, about 26% of Americans volunteered, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. The most volunteers were found among midsize cities, college towns, college graduates, working women, and women with children.

Sources:
The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubormirsky

National & Community Service

Philanthropy

Philanthropy

One national study found that gifts to friends and donations to a good cause increased happiness in donors at every income level. Another study found that the positive emotions resulted whether the gift was large or small—even as small as $5.

This research reinforces what people working in philanthropy know: you don’t have to be wealthy to be generous. Philanthropists such as Bill and Melinda Gates, Paul Allen, Warren Buffett, and Oprah Winfrey are able to do large and inspiring projects with their philanthropy. But they are the exception, not the rule.

People with lower incomes consistently give a higher percentage of their incomes than wealthy people do. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, in 2007 households making less than $19,000 gave 4.3% of their income; all other income groups donated between 2% and 2.7%. Giving from lower-income households also declines less in hard times than the giving of wealthier donors.

And those donations add up. The total amount of money donated in 2005 by households making less than $100,000 a year—nearly $90 million—almost equaled the total amount of money donated by people making $200,000 to $1 million—just over $91 million.

Some facts about donating:

  • Women are more generous than men
  • Older people give more than younger donors with equal incomes
  • The working poor are America's most generous group
  • Recent immigrants are also likely to be generous

The difference? It seems to be strong social connections and empathy. Lower-income donors are likely be to members of a faith community. And they are likely to have been in the position of those they are helping—and to recognize that they could be again.


Sources:
Happiness, by Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener
Key to Happiness: Give Away Money
The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University
America's Poor Are Its Most Generous Givers

Find Help

Locate mental health and well-being support organizations in your area.