Monday, November 5, 2007

"Giver's Greed:" The Result of a Biological Imperative?

A recent article at the Huffington Post entitled "Giver's Greed" has me feeling kind of down. The gist of the article is that often donors give in order to make themselves feel better, hence their emotionally-based rather than logically-based donations don't necessarily end up actually benefiting anyone, or come with stipulations and restrictions that can hinder the overall effectiveness of what the nonprofit is trying to accomplish.

The author gives the examples of people wanting to give food donations to victims of the recent Southern California fires--despite the fact that what those affected need is money to rebuild rather than food--and of teddy bears sent to Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami where the climate resulted in the plush toys becoming disease-ridden and had to be destroyed.

But museums face these issues as well. Most museums are well aware of how much easier it is to fundraise for a new exhibit or a new wing rather than for such mundane expenditures as overhead, collections care and daily maintenance. Similarly, most grants are for specific programs rather than for upkeep and overhead--to the point that sometimes the potential for funding can drive programs, rather than the other way around.

This is only part of what I find disheartening. The other part is that this article points out the down-side to what earlier in the year I had thought was something great! This spring, studies were released that showed that giving/altruism hits the brain in the same way that sex, food and drugs do, namely causing pleasure.

Despite some bloggers opinions that giving should be about the people in need rather than about the donors, I personally felt heartened by the studies, even chiming in during a session on Fundraising 101 at the Mountain-Plains Museums Association conference this past September in Fargo, ND to mention that one more reason why museum development officers shouldn't be afraid of "The Ask" was that giving literally gives people physical pleasure, so by asking them for money, we are essentially offering them the opportunity to experience pleasure.

Furthermore, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, "giving leads to a healthier, happier life."

To me, all this sounded like a win-win situation. Fundraisers, who may sometimes be shy or apologetic about The Ask, now could feel even more secure about doing their jobs, while the evidence pointed to donors benefiting in tangible as well as intangible ways.

But this article has brought me back down to earth and reminded me that because giving is about meeting some sort of basic, primitive, pleasurable human need, it is also subject to human selfishness in some of its less productive forms. Still, now I wonder how many causes would be supported at all if there wasn't any neurological benefit associated with giving?

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