Last Sunday's New York Times featured a much-circulated article, But Will It Make You Happy, exploring the connection - if any - between material consumption (buying lots of things) and happiness. The bottom line: people derive more satisfaction from acquiring experiences than objects. (I feel much better now about my limited wardrobe, primarily unfashionable fleece from REI.) There were two things worth noting in the story for those of us trying to raise money during these challenging economic times. (Is the recession over yet?)
First, as people recalibrate their spending and discover the newfound joy of buying less, the motivation to keep up with the Jones' decreases significantly. The "endless cycle of one-upmanship" may finally be broken. For those schools and organizations whose donors thrive on staking out a spot in the highest giving circle or purchasing a plethora of live auction items while in the limelight, this seemingly positive social phenomenon may have a downside. A big one, at that.
Second, people are seeking a human connection through their expenditures more than ever before. In return for writing that check, people want a warm and fuzzy experience - the stuff of good memories and Kodak moments. Stronger social bonds equal greater happiness and satisfaction. (An aside - a $20,000 increase in spending on leisure equates to the happiness boost one gets from marriage. No guarantee that a charitable gift in that amount will offer the same pay back...)
What does all this mean for the development office? In a nutshell, it's a good reminder that in our world it's all about the donor - their passion, their needs, and their giving experience. Hopefully the "new normal" of buying less and saving more will result in donors finding greater pleasure in giving to organizations that provide them with that desired sense of connection and meaning. In my humble view, it sure beats a new pair of Manolos.