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“*Why Fund-Raising Is Fun” by Arthur C. Brooks

March 31st, 2014

ONCE, I asked a class full of aspiring social entrepreneurs — all with business plans and ambitions to start nonprofits — how many of them were looking forward to fund-raising. Exactly zero hands went up. The consensus was that raising money might be a necessary evil, but it was a distraction from a social enterprise’s “real” work.

To their disappointment, I told them that today, soliciting donations is often the single biggest part of a nonprofit leader’s job. For example, I lead a research institution in Washington. Private philanthropy makes up our entire budget, so I travel every week, and the majority of my time is spent fund-raising.
Sound like fun? Actually, it is. Here’s why.

In 2003, while working on a book about charitable giving, I stumbled across a strange pattern in my data. Paradoxically, I was finding that donors ended up with more income after making their gifts. This was more than correlation; I found solid evidence that giving stimulated prosperity. I viewed my results as implausible, though, and filed them away. After all, data patterns never “prove” anything, they simply provide evidence for or against a hypothesis. But when I mentioned my weird findings to a colleague, he told me that they were fairly unsurprising. Psychologists, I learned, have long found that donating and volunteering bring a host of benefits to those who give. In one typical study, researchers from Harvard and the University of British Columbia confirmed that, in terms of quantifying “happiness,” spending money on oneself barely moves the needle, but spending on others causes a significant increase.

Why? Charitable giving improves what psychologists call “self-efficacy,” one’s belief that one is capable of handling a situation and bringing about a desired outcome. When people give their time or money to a cause they believe in, they become problem solvers. Problem solvers are happier than bystanders and victims of circumstance.

If charity raises well-being, there is no obvious reason it would not also indirectly stimulate material prosperity as people improve their lives. By the time I published my results in an academic journal and book about philanthropy, the only real question was why I hadn’t intuitively understood this all along.
But studying the link between service to others and happiness changed more than just my research; the evidence led me and my wife to reconsider our personal behavior. We raised our financial support for the causes we cared about, increased our volunteering, and — proving that the path to the human heart can run through 100 megabytes of social science data — adopted our youngest child. These things have enriched our family beyond imagination, just as the research promised.

I have found that the real magic of fund-raising goes even deeper than temporary happiness or extra income. It creates meaning. Donors possess two disconnected commodities: material wealth and sincere convictions. Alone, these commodities are difficult to combine. But fund-raisers facilitate an alchemy of virtue: They empower those with financial resources to convert the dross of their money into the gold of a better society.

[*The author is Arthur C. Brooks is a contributing opinion writer and the president of the American Enterprise Institute. “Why Fund-Raising is Fun” appeared in the New York Times Sunday Review]

Nursing Homes – Changing Lives – Ellen’s Story

February 25th, 2014

Living life to its fullest means living ‘purposefully’ each day of our lives. A major fear of residing in a ‘nursing home’ is that of isolation, loneliness, and lack of significant and meaningful activity. Unfairly nursing homes can be thought of as warehouses for the elderly. This is very sad and a very inaccurate description of our church-related nursing homes and senior care centers.

Take for instance, the story of Ellen. Ellen is an 86 year old retired farm woman, whose husband died a few years ago. Ellen lived in a large rambling farmhouse, where she raised her family of eight children and was actively involved in running the family farm. After Ellen’s husband died, the eight children took turns ‘checking in on Mom.’ Clearly, Ellen was experiencing memory loss. She did not dress well. She went to the mailbox many times each day seeking letters. This became a major activity for Ellen as she became more and more debilitated both in mind and body. Safety and security, also became a concern of her children. With busy days and lots of responsibilities, the family was stretched to care for Ellen and their own family’s needs.

With angst and fears, Ellen came to live at Cedar Community’s Friendship House, an assisted living memory facility driven by a commitment to ‘resident-directed’ care and specialized programming. Ellen was obviously distraught in giving up her home and farm. The family was feeling guilt and trust issues with moving their beloved mother to an ‘institution!’

Within a few weeks, Ellen became engrossed in life at Friendship House. She dressed nicer; she became
interested in all that surrounded her; she enjoyed food again; she participated in group singing and found the
exact words to songs that others assumed were lost to her; and, participated in every activity offered.

While Ellen’s life was changed, the lives of her family changed! The weight of responsibility, guilt, and mistrust were lifted. Quality visits between Ellen and family became very pleasant and more prolific. As the family said,
“We have seemed to get our mother back.”

Expect to live longer! Expect to live better?

January 30th, 2014

In the summary of a recent study of life expectancy for seniors, the simplified conclusion stated, “Longevity for those age 65 and older will increase 89 percent over the next 20 years, and the age 85 and older popula¬tion will grow 74 percent during the same period.”

With 10,000 U.S. citizens turning 65 years of age each day, and their life longevity climbing at high rates, the demographic impact of the numbers of seniors will have dramatic effects on society. The effects first and foremost apparent will be on healthcare, followed by economic concerns, housing, family dynamics, political ramifications, and spiritual needs.

Our seniors today are dissimilar from those in the past in several aspects. Seniors today tend to be more highly educated; they likely have worked in a variety of venues and careers; they are more sophisticated investors; they are less involved with the day-to-day lives of their families; more are single; they are far more likely to use computer technology/smart phones; they are more likely to exercise; they are generally more healthy; and, they are likely to live out their lives longer and in better health.

The question then is, if seniors will live healthier and longer, will they live ‘better.’ Better is defined as higher quality life, not in the superficial, but in personal relationships and spiritual growth/maturity?

There is not an answer to this en masse! It’s deeply personal. What several studies find is that there is generally little correlation between perceived happiness (a better life) and things like money and possessions. There is however a correlation of happiness with close ties with spouses, family, and friends. Also, the correlation goes to a strong and growing faith/spiritual awareness. Finally, many claiming to live a ‘better’ life have found happiness in helping others. Active volunteers are the most satisfied!

Living longer and living better means caring for others! Who would’ve ever thought this?