Major Donors Major Gifts Making the Ask

Giving is good for your health!

Science, lots of science, tells us that giving is good for your health.

The good feeling you get when you volunteer or write a check to a cause you care about is very real and physiologically based. Altruistic behavior has been scientifically shown to stimulate the brain’s reward/pleasure center and strengthen the immune system, to cite two examples. The result is better health, including less stress, anxiety and depression.

In a 2006 study, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to track brain activity of subjects who were presented a variety of scenarios that involved accepting monetary pay-offs vs. making contributions to real-life charities.

The study is titled, “Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decision about charitable donation” by Jorge Moll et al and appeared in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), October 17, 2006, vol 103, no 42.

The researchers surprise is reflected in the last line of the introductory blurb: “Remarkably, more anterior sectors of the prefrontal cortex are distinctively recruited when altruistic choices prevail over selfish material interests.”In more accessible language, given that humans are wired for self-preservation, it is unexpected that the altruistic choice (the choice to donate) not the selfish choice (the choice to keep the money) lights up the portion of the brain associated with primary rewards such as food and sex.

In a 1988 study, psychologist David McClelland found that even thinking about doing good had a positive impact on the immune system. Let’s repeat this one: The mere act of thinking about doing good had impact. Wow! In what has become known as the “Mother Teresa effect,” Harvard students watched a film of Mother Teresa caring for orphans in Calcutta. The students who watched the film had significant increases in the protective antibody salivary immunoglobulin A. Furthermore, the immunoglobulin A remained high for over an hour after the film when students were asked to focus on loving or being loved. The study, “The effect of motivational arousal through films on salivary immunoglobulin” by David McClelland et al, appeared in Psychology and Health, Vol. 2, pp. 31-52.

To those of us volunteering and donating, this evidence is not surprising. Scientists are beginning to document what we’ve known all along, but couldn’t really explain.

I wrote this blog entry, in part, for everyone out there who hates to ask for major gifts. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider that stance.

Science tells us that making a major gift to a cherished cause produces health benefits that emanate from primal places deep in the brain.

Create a positive primal experience for a donor. Just ask!

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