Philanthropy benefits all, including the giver

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” -Gandhi

Last Sunday was National Philanthropy Day. This day that is set aside each year to celebrate the impact philanthropy has in our country is one of my favorites. Officially, philanthropy includes the “giving” of one’s time, money, knowledge, or talent to better the world. But what many people may not know is that giving is beneficial for all — especially the one doing the giving.

Charitable giving in America reached an all-time high last year, climbing to $309 billion and Americans also logged 6.9 billion hours of volunteer service. As the former President and CEO of YWCA Nashville Middle Tennessee with over 17 years of experience with nonprofits, I am delighted by our country’s support of nonprofits, and I believe the work of nonprofits improves the quality of life for all of us. 

Thought leaders across the globe and throughout history have shared their beliefs about the importance of giving. Their wisdom opens the door to begin to examine how the giver can receive more than those who directly benefit from the generosity.

“There is deep joy in giving, since what we receive is much more than what we give.” -Mother Teresa 

Having a giving spirit is generally perceived to be grounded in “altruism” or the “practice of selfless concern for the well-being of others.” But giving out of the kindness of your heart is also one of the best things you can do for yourself. I encourage you to be incredibly open to all that you can personally receive in the giving process. In fact, the benefits received by those who give might be the best benefits of all.

Individuals who give freely and with joy know that giving is self-gratifying. I believe the adage, “the more you give, the more you receive.” I have seen firsthand where the practice of giving opens avenues to increased meaning in one’s life and personal happiness, along with ways of thriving that are not easily found otherwise. 

A generous woman once made a large contribution to the YWCA’s domestic violence shelter. She shared that making such a significant gift was the most exciting decision she had ever made in her life, and it was already having a profound impact on her. She felt alive and connected.  She knew her life had important meaning and that she had improved the quality of life for others.  Of course, the hundreds of women who stayed in the shelter benefited from her gift as well, but probably none would say staying in the shelter was the most impactful thing that happened in their life. 

My personal experience supports the idea that the more freely an individual gives, the more health, happiness, and purpose in life they enjoy.

“The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he is, and the more he actualizes himself.” -Viktor Frankl

In Viktor Frankl’s Man Search for Meaning, Frankl shared how he found his life’s meaning while a prisoner in WWII concentration camps. His beliefs included being of service to others or working on a worthy cause. 

Although we will never experience anything as evil and controlling as Frankl, it is important to recognize ways in which we are held hostage to myths about our happiness. Our current culture promotes the notion that “getting” is a definitive way of finding peace and happiness. It is a message we hear and share repeatedly. We want to get more, to have more – whether it be money, possessions, power, attention, love.  We all know people who have plenty and are happy, people who have little and are happy, people have plenty and are unhappy— you get the idea. 

It is an illusion to think that the more you have, the happier you are. That is because true happiness does not come from getting; it comes from giving. Giving is really the greatest gift we can give ourselves, as human beings, because giving satisfies one of our deepest human needs – our need for connection to other human beings and all things good in our universe. 

While at the YWCA, I became friends and confidants with many women from different backgrounds. When someone was struggling with personal issues, I often saw that deciding to focus on others’ well-being made their issues feel less burdensome. Giving back and volunteering, no matter what, makes you feel better. 

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” -Winston Churchill

So here is my message to all: Giving is an under-appreciated, under-recognized health strategy that should be considered by all of us as a way to improve our physical health, elevate our personal happiness and ground our spirituality. 

According to medical science, your body craves the benefits of giving. Our brains are hardwired to serve. Study after study finds that the health benefits of giving include lower blood pressure and lower stress levels. 

One study found that older people who helped friends, relatives, and neighbors or gave emotional support to loved ones were less likely to die over a five-year period than those who didn’t volunteer or offer help to others. 

Your mind deserves an opportunity to reap the benefits of giving. Joyful giving actually creates and enhances personal well-being through benefits including decreased risk of depression, increased self-esteem, and the greatest feeling of happiness. Giving gives you your sense of purpose. 

“God loves those who find joy in giving.” -Pope John Paul II  

Finally, giving seems to be what God wants us to do. All major religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism) practiced today share a common message about the importance of giving to personal salvation.

The ideas and benefits of giving transcends cultures and languages as lessons about giving are shared at a young age. These lessons flourish into adulthood and can shape our lives if we hold onto them forever. 

Join us Wednesday, November 18 at 12PM CST for a live interview with Pat. She will share wisdom about when to know its time to move on, the importance of taking a pause to find your next opportunity, and advice for women business owners and leaders After the interview, you will have the opportunity to meet peers, share experiences and connect with potential partners and clients across the country. Register here.

Patricia Glaser Shea is President & CEO of Givful, a SaaS start-up that revolutionizes the way people give and volunteer through the workplace. Givful’s platform provides employers and their associates with the ability to create a culture of giving, drive community impact, and launch corporate social responsibility initiatives. Givful was named Start-up of the Year 2020 by the Nashville Technology Council.

Before launching Givful, Pat worked for eleven years as President & CEO for the YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee. Under her guidance, the 100+-year-old nonprofit was stabilized as Shea grew net assets to $10M and increased the number of people served. She retired debt and renovated the organization’s Weaver Domestic Violence Center.