Feb 26

Will it Make Me Happier to Give One Big Donation or Multiple Small Ones?

I’m finally in the position to donate what I think is a substantial amount of money each month to an organization I really care about. I was telling my boyfriend how I want to give $200 a month to this cause, and he told me that since there are so many important causes that need money, he thought it would be better to give $50 a month to four different ones. I feel conflicted. Which path would make me feel happiest?

— Want to Make a Difference



Dear Want to Make a Difference,


No matter how much you give, research shows that the act of giving will likely increase your happiness. But it’s true that the way you donate will affect the experience. So is there a “right” way to donate? No, but the “right” way for you may depend on the impact the donation makes on your mindset. A $200 donation, for example, may put you in an upper-tier of donors, which might give you a chance to interact with the people you’re helping or get some sort of feedback into how your donation is making a difference through the organization. If $200 provides this sort of interaction, I would consider going that route. Some early research shows we may feel more satisfied with how we give when we can “see” the results of our donations.


But there are some other factors to consider as well. How passionate you are about the charities you wish to assist? If you feel drawn to four different causes, and don’t want to rank them or choose one over the other, then it may make sense to split your giving four ways. But as you try to figure out your best path, here are two things to keep in mind:

Try both strategies

Who says you need to choose just one path? Consider giving $50 to four causes for six months, and see how you feel. Those six months may make one cause stand out for you. If so, consider giving the entire $200 portion to just that organization. If you find your happiness doesn’t increase, you can go back to giving to all four.


Follow your gut

While there’s no “right” answer, it sounds like you want to give $200 to one organization! It may be worth it to follow your gut from the start. Tell your boyfriend that he’s free to donate his own money however he chooses to do so. While research has proved that giving can make us happier, there is no “right” way to give.



Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D. is a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia who researches how time, money, and technology shape human happiness. She is also the scientific advisor for Happy Money, a financial company that combines psychology and money to help people live happier lives. Have a question for Liz? Write to her at askliz@findjoy.com and check back every Tuesday for her next column.


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