Sara Stern
EVP, Philanthropic Marketing

Could Stress Make Us More Philanthropic?

Implications for giving from the latest American Psychological Association study

A morning brief from TIME magazine popped into my inbox one Thursday morning as I was drinking coffee and preparing for my morning run.

The lead story recapped findings from the American Psychological Association’s  (APA) annual study assessing the level of stress among Americans. Given the daily onslaught of bad news—terror attacks, missile tests, mass killings, hate crimes masked as patriotism, rising temperatures, low-road political leadership and political opportunism—it’s not surprising that we’re feeling stressed.

According to the APA, “More than half of Americans (59 percent) said they consider this the lowest point in U.S. history that they can remember — a figure spanning every generation, including those who lived through World War II and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”

Still, the survey found (and TIME reported), there are some positive outcomes to our national nail-biting: 51 percent of Americans say that the state of the nation has inspired them to volunteer or support causes they value, and more than half (59 percent) have taken some form of action in the past year.

So I started to wonder: could stress make us more philanthropic?

Interestingly, the stress we’re facing as a nation is nonpartisan. According to Arthur C. Evans, Jr., the APA’s chief executive officer,  worry caused by our uncertain times afflicts Democrats and Republicans alike.  Evans’ advice to us is to get involved in organizations and causes that are in line with our values (Oh, and don’t forget to exercise, get enough sleep, and eat well. Really, don’t forget. That helps, too).

I cannot say whether stress fuels the recent, explosive philanthropic giving of America’s new ultra high net worth individualsbut the opportunity to solve big, knotty problems with big commitments that can drive change has quickly seemed to animate some of the world’s deepest-pocketed givers. Think about Soros, Gates, and Zuckerberg (for more, read this reporting in The New York Times from October 2017).

What might this mean institutions and organizations already committedperhaps for a long timeto their missions? They ought to be clear about what they stand for. That way, donors who want to act positively on their anxieties know how closely your mission and work aligns with their values. For individuals?

It’s likely a good time to offer yourself a little stress-relieving philanthropy-therapy.

Read more from Sara about philanthropy in our volatile political climate here.