Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Giving Tuesday accentuates the positive -- Nov. 23, 2017 column


After the post-Thanksgiving buying spree of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday comes Giving Tuesday, a day to give back.

On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, we remember the wisdom of the Beatles: Money “can’t buy me love.” But giving it away can make us feel better.

Now in its sixth year, Giving Tuesday raised a respectable $10 million online for charities and nonprofits in 2012. Fueled by social media, it has grown and spread worldwide.

People in about 100 countries participated last year, raising $168 million for worthy causes, an increase of 44 percent from 2015. The average contribution was about $108.

Giving Tuesday encourages us to take a breath, reflect on what’s important and act on our values by contributing time, energy or cash. Companies also participate, recognizing that customers, especially millennials, like doing business with companies that share their values.

Giving is so strongly associated with our culture that the Museum of American History launched a Giving in America project two years ago, collecting artifacts such as a March of Dimes collection can and a bucket from the ALS ice bucket challenge that swept the country in 2014.

The museum will sponsor a day-long Giving Tuesday celebration in which kids and adults can share how they give and why.

Facebook and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will match up to $2 million in donations to U.S. nonprofits through Facebook, which is also waiving its fees for donations made on Facebook that day.

Observers credited the rise in Giving Tuesday contributions last year partly to a “Trump effect” of people speaking with their wallets following the election. The ACLU, Anti-Defamation League and Planned Parenthood were among groups that reported spikes in donations.

The Trump effect worked both ways. The Donald J. Trump Foundation raised $2.9 million last year, nearly as much as it did in the previous four years combined. It donated about $3 million to nonprofits, mostly to veterans groups, distributing more last year than it had in the last three years combined, The New York Times reported Monday.

Trump hasn’t actually contributed to his own charity since 2008, but a couple of deep-pocketed donors wrote checks for $1 million each. Trump announced he’s shutting down his foundation, though he hasn’t yet, according to the Times.

Giving Tuesday isn’t political and it doesn’t accept or distribute contributions. It encourages each person to choose a favorite charity, donate on the charity’s website and publicize the choice on social media with the hashtag #givingtuesday.

It was founded in New York by the 92nd Street Y, a cultural and community center in New York, in partnership with the United Nations Foundation. Founder Henry Timms, executive director of the Y, is the son of one of my closest friends.

Many studies have shown helping others makes you happy. Volunteers may also live longer, manage their pain better and lower their blood pressure more than those who don’t volunteer.

Behavioral economists write about the “warm glow” effect. If you’re generous with your time, talents or money, you’re likely to report higher levels of well-being.

It may be all in your head, literally. Acts of generosity activate a part of the brain linked to happiness, a Swiss study released last summer found.

Participants were promised about $26 a week for four weeks. Half were asked to commit to spending the money on someone else and half on themselves. After deciding how they’d spend the money, the subjects received MRI scans and answered questions.

People spending the money on others reported feeling happier than those who were treating themselves. The scans showed generosity triggered a response in a part of the brain related to happiness.

Interestingly, this happened even though the participants never actually received or spent any money. And it didn’t matter how much they planned to give.

“You don’t need to become a self-sacrificing martyr to feel happier. Just being a little more generous will suffice,” said Phillipe Tobler, one of the researchers.

On this Giving Tuesday, we can all make ourselves feel better by acting on our values and priorities.

©2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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