Last year, charities received between $420 billion and $430 billion in contributions in the United States, with some 6.5 million individuals accounting for 70% of the total.

Analysts say that these givers are shrinking in total numbers but the dollars contributed continue to increase every year.

An adage I heard long ago went something like “thick on the best and thin on the rest,” which simply means if you are a giver you get vastly more attention — phone calls, fund­raising letters and invitations to fundraising events —from the overseers of your particular cause.

So, if you are inundated regularly for contributions, accept it as a price you pay for your generosity.

A well-known bank in the Twin Cities that I patronize says that volunteering your time, money and energy to help others doesn’t just make the world better — it also makes a better person; the very act of giving back boosts our own happiness, health and sense of well-being.

The bank cites seven advantages of helping others:

1. You could live longer. Volunteers show an improved ability to manage stress and stave off disease. Alleviating loneliness and enhancing our social lives are factors that can significantly affect our long-term health.

2. Altruism is contagious. When one person performs a good deed, it causes a kind of chain reaction of other altruistic acts.

3. Giving makes us happy. Among 2,000 people tracked over a five-year period, Americans who described themselves as “very happy” volunteered nearly six hours per month.

4. Giving may help with chronic pain. According to one study, people who suffered from chronic pain tried working as peer volunteers. As a result, they experienced a reduction in their own symptoms.

5. Giving lowers blood pressure. One piece of research showed that older individuals who volunteered for at least 200 hours a year decreased their risk of hypertension by 40%.

6. Giving promotes positive behavior in teens. According to sociologists, teenagers who volunteer have better grades and self-image.

7. Giving provides a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Studies show that volunteering enhances an individual’s overall sense of purpose and identity — particularly if they no longer hold a life-defining role like “worker” or “parent.”

My personal giving began decades ago in my growing-up years as a result of actions by my father, a farm kid who became a small-town banker. He was not flamboyant in his lifestyle, but he was generous to a fault with both his time and treasure. He rarely failed to note a person’s birthday or graduation with a $2 bill and card, routinely contributing to a memorial in the name of a departed one, responding to appeals that arrived by U.S. Post — pre e-mail and text days — and faithfully writing notes and using the telephone to reach out to people in need.

This time-consuming trait, while not always appreciated by his immediate family, has strongly influenced my own behavior on such matters.

An office cleaning recently required me to shift through a great deal of personal paperwork, especially solicitations for money. I took special note of the kind of financial support that I offer annually. For me, I generally give money to those groups and organizations that I am willing to give my time in various leadership roles, mostly to those who support our too-fragile environment, young people and their challenges and economic security.

Personal and financial loyalties also show up consistently in such things as support of my hometown, favorite college and for worthy individuals seeking public service. I am among many Americans who are financially supportive of their church-related missions that serve the most in need here and abroad.

In recent years, I contributed non-tax-deductible dollars to covering the costs of hosting foreign students in our home and mentoring young people — mostly through attending ballgames, hanging together for a play or movie and otherwise having a fun times over meals. Just being together is more valuable to most kids than whatever the out-of-pocket costs may be.

The things we do for ourselves are gone when we have passed, but I am comforted that the things we do for others remain as a person’s continuing legacy.

 

Chuck Slocum is president of the Williston Group, a management consulting firm. Reach him at Chuck@WillistonGroup.Com.