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Rich, Successful and Miserable? Secrets to Finding Fulfillment Through Philanthropy

A recent New York Times article seems to have everyone buzzing. The reporter claimed that American’s are unhappier in their professional lives than ever before in large part due to their lack of fulfillment at work. But what if that could change? More and more companies are offering programming to help retain employees and attract […]

A recent New York Times article seems to have everyone buzzing. The reporter claimed that American’s are unhappier in their professional lives than ever before in large part due to their lack of fulfillment at work. But what if that could change? More and more companies are offering programming to help retain employees and attract top talent, and one of the most impactful programs is through philanthropy. CariClub, a platform that connects millennial workers with associate boards at charitable organizations that they care about, has taken off in the corporate world, with companies like Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, Deloitte, EY, Davis Polk, Sidley Austin, and Unilever all signing on as partners. But what are the real benefits of getting involved?

It Triggers a Helpers High

We all know that giving back makes us feel good, but why exactly? According to researchers from the National Institutes of Health, the functional MRIs of subjects who gave to various charities, showed stimulation to the mesolimbic pathway, which is the reward center in the brain — releasing endorphins and creating what is known as the “helper’s high.” The volunteers also were found to have higher levels of serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, leading to those warm and fuzzy feelings. The good news – unlike other highs, this addictive feeling is actually good for you.

But it’s more than just feeling good, there are other body benefits…

A study from the International Journal of Psychophysiology showed that people who gave social support to others had lower blood pressure, and it helped with recovery from coronary related events. People who volunteered have also been shown to have lower levels of stress, higher self-esteem, and are less susceptible to feelings of depression.

There are professional benefits too.

Volunteers often work on a team – whether building houses or sitting on a board – and the planning process allows opportunity to develop and hone your leadership skills. As Karl Moore wrote in an article for Forbes: “Because corporate managers volunteering in nonprofits don’t have titles to define their positions, they have to practice what some call “per mission leadership.” That is, they have to earn the trust and respect of the people they are supervising. Also, they need to do all this with what are usually much more limited resources than what they are accustomed to in their ‘real jobs’, which often requires significant creative skills.”

Further, a study by Deloitte recently stated that 85 percent of respondents found skills-based volunteering to help talent advance their communication skills vs 77% for non-skills-based volunteering. When presented with a challenge in a non-professional environment, you’re often given an opportunity to truly shine.

It also broadens your network.

It’s extremely easy in both your professional and personal life to keep your “circle” fairly small. In fact, broadening your network and your friendship base can be extremely challenging over the age of 30. As The New York Times reported “people tended to interact with fewer people as they moved toward midlife.” When you volunteer, you are often exposed not only to an entirely new group of like-minded people, but also often a group of individuals you wouldn’t cross paths with otherwise. While this is a good tool from a professional development standpoint, it can be critically important if you’re ever looking for a new job. As US News & World Report wrote: “By volunteering, you’ll become a known quantity to an entirely new pool of people. You’ll now have a whole new group in your network who knows from direct experience with you that you are (hopefully) reliable, competent, and sane. These traits are not to be underestimated on the job market. These people will then be able to vouch for you to others in their own networks.”

Your company may reap some ancillary benefits.

As a recent article in the Houston Chronicle stated: “A major advantage that companies glean from their philanthropic practices is the support of communities and the surrounding markets. Essentially, by using profits derived from the community to benefit that same community (filled with its customers) businesses can greatly increase their prospects of future revenue flows. Supporting a community can lead to greater local economic success – creating income that can then be used at the business. For impoverished areas or those without experience with particular products, philanthropy can actually be used to create a market.”

And it leads to overall feelings of fulfillment and happiness at your job.

As Coppy Holzman pointed out in his article in Fortune, “if you make your company a positive force in the community, it can improve employees’ regard for their corporate leaders, which can only help you. It’s also simply a nice feeling and can make you more motivated to work there. The daily grind is difficult. Employees need all the motivation they can get. Good morale is essential to a successful business, and this is one of the best ways to bolster it.”

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