In October, the Women’s Philanthropy Institute announced the results of its Women Give 2017 study, which aimed to examine the connection between philanthropy and life satisfaction. In particular, the study hoped to look across gender lines to see what impact philanthropy has on overall happiness and charitable giving. The data examined in the study came from the Philanthropy Panel Study (PPS), which is part of the larger Panel Study on Income Dynamics (PSID). The survey asks several questions about charitable contributions, family structure, and overall feelings of satisfaction.
The questions about satisfaction only appeared in the surveys from 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015, so the study uses only the data from these four years to answer its questions. The PPS surveys the same households with each iteration, so the researchers were able to look at changes over time and infer causation between happiness and philanthropy. The satisfaction question was posed on a scale with one representing the lowest level of overall satisfaction and five being the highest ranking.
Respondents to the survey included heads of households or their partners. Altogether, 10,735 individuals responded to the survey over the course of multiple years for a total data set of 34,158 responses. Some of the key findings from the study include:
Giving makes everyone happier.
From the responses gathered, it’s clear that there is a positive correlation between giving to charity and feeling satisfied in life. When households gave more money to charitable causes, as measured by percentage of total income, they were more likely to report higher levels of overall satisfaction. Importantly, this correlation was found across all of the different demographic groups studied, including single men, single women, and domestic partners.
Changes in giving have a different effect on men and women.
Gender lines became more relevant when the researchers looked at overall changes in giving. Men experienced an increase in overall life satisfaction when they started giving. However, giving more did not yield a similar increase in satisfaction for them. For single women and married couples, giving more increased their life satisfaction.
Women report more satisfaction when they direct giving.
For married couples, women seem to have an impact on the correlation between happiness and giving as a percentage of income. When women reported involvement in the philanthropy decision-making process or identified themselves as the director of household charitable giving, satisfaction increased as giving increased. This same trend was not as pronounced among married couples in which the man had more control over giving. In the questionnaire, couples were able to report that one party had the majority of influence, that decisions were made together, or that each partner made separate decisions about giving.
Satisfaction is tied to percent, not amount.
The researchers examined charitable giving among several different income groups. One group included households earning less than $50,000, another encompassed households earning between $50,000 and $100,000, and the third included households earning more than $100,000. In all three groups, households that gave more than 2 percent of their overall earnings to charity had higher levels of satisfaction. It seems clear that happiness is not dependent on how much a household donates in absolute terms, but rather what people can give in relative terms.
Lower earners may be happier when they give.
In one analysis of the data, researchers found that some households that made less money actually reported greater overall satisfaction than those that made more when they donated more than 2 percent of their income. When looking at households in which women influence giving decisions, donating more than 2 percent of income provided a greater boost in life satisfaction to households earning less than $100,000. While households earning more than $100,000 still saw a boost in satisfaction when they donated more than 2 percent, it was only a 0.52 percent increase, compared to the 2.7 percent increase among households earning less than $100,000.
What the Study Means for the Field of Philanthropy
The study’s findings could have a significant impact on the field of philanthropy. Fundraisers can gain more insight into how to approach potential donors. For example, philanthropic organizations may want to begin using stories about how giving has impacted the lives of single male donors to influence more non-donors to give. In addition, organizations may want to engage female donors about why they chose a specific cause and use those reasons to direct future efforts to elicit donations. Fundraisers may be able to use data about the correlation between giving percentages and increases in life satisfaction to encourage current donors to give more in the future.
Furthermore, the study could affect how households approach their charitable giving. In addition to being inspired to give more, households may begin shifting more of the decision-making responsibility to women. Already, women are increasingly emerging as today’s philanthropic leaders as their incomes continue to increase. Many fundraisers are taking notice, especially because women tend to give more money, more often when compared to men.