The Generous, The Wealthy, and The Happy

Thomas J. Stanley, author of The Millionaire Next Door just penned another thought-provoking work entitled, Stop Acting Rich . . . and Start Living Like a Real Millionaire. In “Stop Acting Rich,” Stanley observes that wealthy Americans ($1 million in assets excluding the home) who give away at least 10% of their incomes to charity also spend less on “impediments to building wealth” such as taxes, expensive homes, high end autos, club dues, etc.   He paints a picture for us of a disposition which connects generosity, happiness, and wealth building.  People who give more tend report higher levels of life satisfaction and tend to be frugal in other areas of life.

This book encourages me to ask two important development-related questions:

  1. How can we go about finding more of the frugal/generous/happy folk in our databases?  It is important to keep in mind that those living in the high-end neighborhoods and driving the luxury vehicles, just may be so leveraged that they have very little liquidity.  The rabbit may be fast with a coat of gorgeous hair, but the slow, steady, dull tortoise wins the race.
  2. As professionals who practice the development craft, how might we incorporate into our work Stanley’s message of a lifestyle that connects generosity, wealth building, and happiness?

The answer to the first question will come, I believe, from thoughtful data mining (focusing on zip codes, for instance, for older, upper-middle class neighborhoods as opposed to zip codes for McMansion neighborhoods).  It also comes from growing as a development professional, mastering the art of inquiry, and learning the real cues which point to wealth.

The answer to the second question is more complex.  Some may say that our work is not to encourage people into or out of a certain lifestyle or spending disposition.  However, I’m not so sure.  I believe (as Stanley does) that being generous is a behavior that characterizes a happy, healthy, balanced adult life.  Further, I believe that development professionals are in unique situations to encourage those with whom we come into contact to be generous.  Yes, this may appear self serving – we are receiving their charitable gift.  But, donors get something in return as well – I believe each of us betters ourselves when we act generously.   It is one of life’s rare and true “win/win” situations.

We can and should assist in the shaping of our donors’ attitudes and behaviors toward giving.  After all, what Stanley is suggesting is a simple act of prioritization.  Those wealthy donors who have made giving a high priority tend also to spend less elsewhere and tend to be happier.  Isn’t our job to encourage donors to make giving a high priority?  The better we impact those lifestyle attitudes and choices, the more we will be able to characterize our donors as “the generous, the wealthy, and the happy.”

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