Anna Taylor: Givers deserve their 'helper's high'

The 'helper's high' is a real and deserved phenomenon, says our columnist

Anna Taylor
Anna Taylor

There has been a great deal of psychological research over the years into the impact of charitable giving on emotional wellbeing. As fundraisers, we have an opportunity not only to help the beneficiaries of our charities this Christmas but also the donors.

The advantages of giving include reinforcing an image of ourselves as kind and generous, improving our self-esteem and making us feel more connected to the rest of the world.

In our Christmas letters, we might want to think about how we can help our supporters to feel positive about the fact that they give and recognise them as philanthropists. Why should this title be reserved for the super-rich who are able to give large amounts of money? We should let regular donors know that they are the backbone of our charities and that their compassion and generosity of spirit enables us to achieve amazing things.

Research carried out at Harvard Business School in the US has shown that giving causes increased happiness and also that happier people give more as they seek out another dose of joy - with the two relationships reinforcing one another in a positive feedback loop. It has also been shown that, if given money to spend on either themselves or others, people who give away the money feel higher levels of satisfaction.

In my experience, most charitable donors are warm and kind people, and they deserve their 'helper's high'. This phenomenon has been identified by brain scientists as a boost of endorphins and a reduction in stress hormones after a charitable act. There is no value in begrudging donors this happiness because of the real suffering in the world. They can't solve world poverty with a £25 donation - but in their own way, each giver is trying to help. Making them feel good makes it more likely that they will want to continue to do good.

A recent study in Canada has shown that giving to charity through friends and personal contacts, thus strengthening social connections, creates even more happiness than making an anonymous donation to a worthy cause. This is a thought with which to cheer yourself next time you are involved in a sponsored event.

The key is to keep your funding requests friendly and personal, and to emphasise that every little counts. It's also worth going that extra mile to make people know how grateful you are for their support, and to find out how they are and what is going on in their lives - preferably face to face or by phone.

Anxiety, stress and unhappiness are all too common features of many people's lives. Christmas can be a particularly challenging time of year for those whose mental wellbeing is not in tip-top shape. In the spirit of the season, we should avoid playing the guilt card and instead be encouraging the warm glow of happiness that people feel when they do the right thing.

Anna Taylor, a freelance fundraiser, writer and researcher and aformer UK director of Child in Need India

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