There are some songs that, when I hear them, immediately make me well up with emotion for various reasons: Super Trouper by ABBA (killer harmonies always get me); the entire Travis album The Man Who (reminds me of my first child’s first year); and Bruce Springsteen’s Girls in Their Summer Clothes (strong lyrical imagery + vocal performance that evokes longing = tears), among others. The physical reaction upon listening to these songs is involuntary and connects me to the music in unexpected ways.
And, because of my emotional reaction, I consciously choose to listen to these songs over and over, and I anticipate my reaction. Anyone driving past me while I have one of these songs cranked up must think I’ve lost it.
What does all of this have to do with philanthropy? As it turns out, everything.
When we give to charity, we do so on one of several levels:
- Instinctive gift – this is a spur-of-the-moment decision, like adding change to the charity box at the grocery store or dropping cash into the Salvation Army bucket during the holidays. No forethought; just a quick decision to give at that moment.
- Obligatory gift – this is a gift that we make out of a sense of obligation, such as a friend or family member asking us to support their 5k or, for some, dropping that tithe check into the Sunday collection basket. We give because we feel we should – but absent that feeling, would we make such a gift on our own?
- Thoughtful gift – this is a gift that we spend time considering before making. Year-end giving usually involves thinking about the organizations we appreciate and feel are doing a good job, and then deciding how much to give to each. It goes beyond instinct, and there is no sense of obligation. We give because we want to.
- Emotionally-connected gift – this is that special gift we make where we feel a sense of deep satisfaction, where our emotions take hold of us and cause us to shower an organization or cause with generosity. Something inside us stirs unexpectedly, and our response is to open our wallets willingly, happily, over and over.
At each level of giving, we feel some gratification at having acted for the good of the world. All of these levels of giving have that in common.
But it is the emotionally-connected gift that holds the most powerful charge for us, that binds us to a cause like no other.
In an ideal world, we would all feel that stirring emotional charge when giving charitably. Giving is even good for our health, as at least one study suggests.
In my experience working with donors, that emotionally-connected gift happens when someone is so invested in a particular cause – feels so strongly about a particular need – that the act of giving is cathartic. I have also seen donors get emotional when making a legacy gift through their estate plan, since such a gift will help define how they will be remembered.
If you haven’t felt that way when making a charitable gift – if you haven’t welled up with emotion over a particular cause or organization – I urge you to look within and think about the kind of impact you wish to make:
- Where is our society’s greatest need, in your opinion?
- Which organizations are working today to fill that need?
- How can your gift make a difference?
Visualize yourself making the kind of gift that will not only transform your chosen cause – but will also, by the very act of giving, transform you.
Not every gift can be made at the emotionally-connected level, just like every song on the radio can’t evoke an emotional reaction in us. But each of us as givers can make that one gift that moves us like no other.
Questions or comments? Contact me on Twitter @juanros.