Want to feel better? Give!

by Wade Rathke

October 19, 2020

New Orleans   Finally, a cure for Covid-19 pandemic depression! I can’t believe that the president hasn’t been screaming the news at the top of his compromised lungs now. If you want to feel good, just give! It works for either a political candidate or a charity. If you want a suggestion of a charity, call me sometime!

This isn’t just me saying this. No indeed. The National Bureau of Economic Research published a paper, reported in the Wall Street Journal, finding that the impetus for both charitable giving and donations to your favorite candidates is roughly the same: “desire for the positive feeling that comes from doing something good.” This may also explain why Biden is leading the fundraising efforts for this political cycle over Trump. Donating to Trump, is such a negative impulse that it just doesn’t feel good.

There’s a downside of course. The two feed on each other. Literally. Giving to a charity can substitute for giving to a campaign, and vice versa, because they satisfy “the same psychological needs.”

The authors of the study tested this phenomenon after a fashion by looking at contributions made to the American Red Cross versus data from the Federal Election Commission that monitors political donations. They looked at a six-week period. They knew, which I didn’t, that contributions to the American Red Cross spike after a foreign disaster. I find that strange, because I would have hoped that donations would have surged where the disaster happened to relieve the misery, rather than here on the home front, but that’s a question we need to examine another day. Anyway, the professors found in that the American Red Cross “tends to receive about a 27% increase in the amount of donations.” The data from the FEC indicated that in the same period, they saw “political donations decline by about 3.75%.” They claim that could translate into a loss for big time politicians and their campaigns of more than half-a-billion dollars, $562 million.

On the other side of the giving spectrum, they found that when viewers saw more television ads, they increased giving by 9.2% compared to a neighboring county that saw fewer ads, and “decreased charitable giving by 0.7%.” Interestingly, the University of Pennsylvania Wharton business school researchers found that these contributions didn’t change expenditures on basic household items or even lottery tickets. I actually found that interesting as well. One of the common lines in membership dues raps compares the minimal level of dues to the price of cigarettes or beer or a latte. This research would seem to suggest that is an unreal comparison. The real one might be a comparison to some other donation that the individual might make to club, church, or candidate.

Like voting, the important thing is giving. Doing right and doing good will make you feel better, and, in fact, it makes everything better in the long run.

Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International.

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