The Art and Science of Giving

It's certainly no accident that a large part of my career has involved organizational philanthropy and working with volunteers.

From the time I was about five years old, I can keenly remember my mother handing my six brothers and sisters and me money each Sunday morning to pop into the church collection basket. As one of the younger kids in the pack, I was given a shiny dime to seal in the crisp white offering envelope while my older siblings were each provided a whopping quarter to donate. And on sweltering hot summer trash pick-up days, mom would put together a huge pitcher of ice water with drinking glasses and send us off to give the garbage collectors a cool break when they arrived to our home at 808 Maple Road. Even at a such young age, these opportunities to give felt so good to me.

And then there was my father. As our family of nine regularly squished into a Vista Cruiser station wagon to head off somewhere, dad seemed compelled to stop anytime we came upon a stranded motorist stuck on the side of the road. We kids would groan with frustration as dad pulled over to look under their hood or change a flat tire. Invariably, by the time dad had solved the motorist's problem, all parties involved had become friends and waved goodbye with a good feeling in our hearts.

Giving stimulates a life of meaning and gratitude. And quietly modeling generosity to others is one of the most important things we can do along our path to being our best selves.

It turns out that doing good is a primal instinct that ties together all human beings, regardless of geography, race or social class. Research has proven that the actions of donating money or helping others stimulates our brain's pleasure center and provides the warm fuzzies that yield positive benefits to our overall health and well-being.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, people who gave social support to others had lower blood pressure than people who didn’t. Helping others also played a key role in people recovering from coronary-related events. Researchers from the University of Buffalo found a link between giving and unselfishness and having a lower risk of early death. Their findings revealed that helping others – whether it be by running errands, watching their children or giving them a lift somewhere – is linked with a decreased mortality risk. And in research conducted by the National Institutes of Health, participants who chose to donate a portion of the $100 they were provided for the experiment enjoyed activated pleasure centers in their brains. Although the experiment was controlled and scientific, it did demonstrate that donating money simply makes a person feel better, which is something we can all benefit from.

For some people, giving comes naturally. I am fortunate to be in that category thanks to early modeling and conditioning from my parents. For others, being a good giver requires intention. If you find yourself in the latter category, or if you need a giver-refresh, here are three helpful tips:

  1. Give without expecting anything in return. Once you make that donation or help that person, let go of any desire to receive something back. I believe what goes around does indeed come around. When we do good for others, good things ultimately come back to us in unexpected ways.

  2. Look for opportunities to model, particularly to children, the power of giving your time, talents and treasures. I will be forever indebted to my parents for the lessons they taught me about charitable giving and volunteering.

  3. Give and volunteer at the right levels. Neither under-giving nor over-giving feels good. Do what is instinctively right for you.

When you choose to make someone else's life better, you are firing up neural networks that help you feel good, which then causes you to act in more productive ways. And the outcome of your giving to others? It will likely reach further than you will ever know.

Kathleen J. DuBois is a Certified Fund Raising Executive, leadership coach and managing director of Progressity, Inc. Visit if your organization has a desire to give and receive more!


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