Why Give?

Dec 6, 2019 | The Power of Philanthropy

The following was adapted from a presentation I had the pleasure of making during Mi Esperanza’s gala fundraiser, Passport to Hope, in Covington, Louisiana. Mi Esperanza means MY HOPE and began in 2002 with a vision to provide life-sustaining change in the lives of women in the villages surrounding Tegucigalpa, Honduras.

Everyone benefits from giving: those who receive as well as those who give. Generosity is a wonderful habit to cultivate. It can help foster gratitude, which has numerous positive outcomes. According to researcher, Robert Emmons, gratitude reduces toxic emotions such as envy, resentment and depression and increases overall happiness and well-being.

I travel a lot, and when I settle into my airplane seat, the person beside me will often ask what I do. When I say, “major gift fundraising,” half of them will visibly shudder and tell me how much they hate fundraising.

I usually smile and let them in on a little secret: “If you don’t enjoy fundraising, you’re doing it wrong.”

Honestly, I love what I do. I have the greatest job in the world. I get to spend my days talking with people about what matters in the world, what matters to them and how we can change things together. I get to meet with and hear stories from the best kinds of people—those who have a heart, have been successful, have resources to give and have a desire to leave a mark on the world. I get to be a part of the most transformative time in a person’s life: when they make a gift that will have a huge impact, and last long after we all do.

As fundraisers, we can know we’ve approached fundraising in the right way when our donor says, “Thank you!” They are grateful that we have listened to them, heard them, connected them with an opportunity that they care about and that matters. Finally, they are thankful that we have invited them to give a gift of significance. I have had so many donors thank me for making it possible for them to do something so important: giving to a mission and an organization that makes a difference in the world.

As a major gift fundraiser, I spend a lot of my energy and resources trying to understand why people give. Hartsook has invested millions of dollars in fundraising research and advancing the profession. We know that the more fundraisers understand about donor motivation, the more money that can be raised and the more lives that can be changed for the better.

So, based on research, why do people give? Some answers you might hear, anecdotally, are to:

  • Help
  • Share
  • Give back
  • Have an impact and change lives
  • Leave the world a better place than you found it
  • Make people feel good
  • “Pay it forward”

Giving feels so good, we want to do it again.

But, do we want to give … or do we need to give?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows us that before we can thrive, we have to survive. We need food, water and shelter. After we have basic needs covered, only then can we focus on safety: personal, emotional, financial and health security. Once that’s in order, we can move to the next critical layer of development: love and belonging. If we don’t have this, we feel lonely, anxious and depressed. We’re not well, and we can’t move forward.

This is where philanthropy fits in.

A leading researcher in understanding why people give, Dr. Jen Shang, has discovered that when we make a philanthropic gift, we experience the same kinds of feelings we do when we fall in love. There’s a rush, a delight, a euphoria—our hearts swell. We smile and laugh more. We feel great, and we want to do it again.

The word “philanthropy” has Latin and Greek roots: “phil” meaning “love” and “anthropos,” meaning “mankind.” Philanthropy literally means, “love of mankind.”

So, philanthropy isn’t about money. It’s about loving one another.

We give, because we need to give to feel good; and we should fundraise like we know this to be true, because it is!

Giving matters, because love matters.

Karin Cox, MFA
President and Co-Founder

Hartsook
Wilmington, N.C.