By Marty Wiggins
EDITOR’S NOTE: “Give Well” is a weekly column written by Dawn Franks of Your Philanthropy, Kyle Penney of the East Texas Communities Foundation and representatives of The Women’s Fund of Smith County.
JOY! It filled the room on the morning of Feb. 12 when The Women’s Fund of Smith County announced its first $100,000 grant to a community program. As part of its Annual Grants Reception, this surprise announcement brought a standing ovation from members of The Women’s Fund and the community-at-large.
The attendees were pleased to see The Women’s Fund reach this meaningful milestone, and to know that the $100,000 in funding to Habitat for Humanity would ultimately make essential repairs to the homes of 24 women in rural Smith County. But the emotion was deeper, as the collective giving of The Women’s Fund became collective joy.
Does giving to others benefit the giver as well? From ancient wisdom to a growing body of scientific evidence, the answer is a resounding “Yes.” Brain scans now show that simply thinking of helping others by planning to make a donation makes people happier.
In 2009 the Harvard Business School released a working paper titled “Feeling Good about Giving.” The document looked at various studies that confirmed: happier people give more, and from the opposite angle, giving makes people happier. The Harvard researchers conducted their own experiment asking a representative sample of Americans to rate their general happiness and provide monthly estimates of spending for bills/expenses, gifts for themselves, gifts for others and donations to charity. Even controlling for income, higher charitable spending was associated with greater happiness – whereas, personal spending was not.
The United States is known as a giving nation, both in dollars and volunteerism. The 2010 “Do Good Live Well Survey” of 4,500 adults, found that 41 percent of Americans volunteered an average of 100 hours a year. The “giving population” of volunteers reports: an improved sense of wellbeing, lower stress levels and better physical health. The emotional benefits also include an enriched sense of purpose in life and increased happiness. Even longevity is affected, as volunteering frequently to help others has been shown to delay mortality among older adults.
One of the hardworking members of the ETMC Tyler Volunteers was recently so overcome with the joy of service that she exclaimed, “it must be a sin!” All kidding aside, volunteering connects people to others and brings feelings of accomplishment – both factors that play a major role in mind/body benefits.
The joy of giving is increased when a donor is able to picture the impact of his or her gift. In other words, that $20 donation really is a gift of meals, or medicine or student mentoring. Across our communities, there are many needs and opportunities to provide financial and volunteer support. The donors who feel best about their giving are those who identify the causes that match their passions and interests, and then give of their time, talent and treasure.
The 240 members of The Women’s Fund have chosen to bond together in funding programs to improve the lives of women and children in Smith County. By participating in the grants process each year, every member has ownership of the funds awarded and can visualize their impact over the coming year. The result: the personal and collective joy of this journey, which was so evident at the Feb. 12 grants announcement event.
To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, “It is one of the beautiful compensations of life that no woman can sincerely help others without helping herself.” This short message contains great wisdom that we all can live by.
Marty Wiggins serves as Director of the ETMC Foundation and the 2015 Chair of The Women’s Fund of Smith County. Please consider joining our organization – go to www.womensfundsc.org for membership and additional information.