Charity makes you healthier

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on February 13th, 2015 in Thoughts & Commentary

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Raising funds is complicated.  It always has been and if current times are any indication, it will always be.  We’ve gone from the donor pyramid, a nice linear progression to lead donors up the ladder, to the donor vortex, that makes me grind my teeth (if you like the gear visual of how this vortex operates) or get dizzy (if you like the circular arrow for the visual).  We may not have always appreciated it, but life was simple back then.

We’ve gone from accepting cash and checks to online donations and PayPal to bitcoin.  Bitcoin, you say?  If you want, you can begin to accept bitcoin—“digital, decentralized currency”–donations or get donations through an intermediary platform that specializes in these sorts of transactions.  Not quite as easy as it sounds (check it out here:, but maybe worth investigating. United Way is already doing it.  The George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston is the first place to actually have a bitcoin ATM!  According to February’s issue of The Meeting Professional, there were eight million bitcoin users in 2014 (and I don’t know one of them!) who did $23 billion in transactions.  No small change to sniff at there!  Not right for everyone, for sure, but if you are a mission that draws international support, thoughtful consideration would be in order.  And for all, it is another reminder of the complexity of being good fundraisers as we all struggle to meet our donors where and how they want.

Recent research, however, suggests their may be a much easier way to get people to give money:  to increase the tax benefits of giving to charity.  Research going back a at last a good ten years, if not more, has taught us a number of things.

  1. Wealth has a very weak relationship to our own happiness.
  2. Giving to others, however, as opposed to spending on oneself, absolutely correlates with feeling good and happiness.
  3. Medical research has shown, repeatedly, that giving to others has a positive effect on our immune system, reduces stress and psychological well-being.
  4. Tax incentives increase donations to charities.

Baris Yörük, a professor at SUNY Albany, had the great idea to combine the two ideas—tax incentives and the health benefits of donating-and found a wonderful outcome:  the likelihood of reporting better health has a direct relationship with the size of the tax benefit.  As the latter goes up, the former goes up.  Even a small increase-1%- in the tax incentive produces a .01% in the likelihood of reporting improved health—and as small as this is, it is statistically significant.  (if something is statistically significant, the outcome didn’t happen by chance.) So, to get a real improvement in health, the tax break would have to increase almost 200%, Yörük says.  Okay, so we can’t pin our hopes on that!

But there are some things that Yörük found that are helpful.  For one, as the size of a donation increases, donors report improved health.  And, for another, tax incentives have a statistically significant effect on certain diseases, specifically lung diseases, arthritis and emotional problems, and an impact, though not significant, on cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks, and obesity.

Maybe raising funds just go a little easier with a new message in town:  giving to charities not only helps a donor’s bottom line, it also can improve their physical and mental health.  And the more they give, the better they will feel.

What’s not to like about that?

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