1. Give to very specific projects.
When organizations are framed in real tangible ways, you give three times more to support them. And you feel better when you do. When projects are framed in real tangible ways, you give twice as much. And you feel better when you do. When you feel like you’re giving directly to programs (and not ‘overhead’) you give three times as much. And feel better when you do (Note: ‘overhead’ not being a part of the cause is utter nonsense and destructive to charity overall, watch this great TED Talk from Dan Pallotta if you want to learn more).
Maximize your happiness by giving to a clear, tangible project as it’s nearing completion.
2. Give more frequently in smaller amounts.
Giving, like consumption, has diminishing returns. Giving $1000 doesn’t give you 10 times the high of giving $100. Because of this you really should be giving more often in smaller amounts so you get that pleasure high more often. Really good monthly donation programs, like Opportunity International’s, where they break down your monthly donation to show you how many people you’ll impact are great but they don’t give you the actual act of giving every month.
Maximize your happiness by giving more often, in smaller amounts to support more causes and projects.
3. Give with no strings attached.
Making a donation to get something tangible in exchange can limit that altruistic high you get when giving. To a lesser degree it is the same with purchasing decisions where a portion of proceeds goes to charity. These things can take your decision making from a social market mentality (how can I help others with my resources) to an economic market mentality (how do I get the most utility with my resources). Infusing your economic market decisions with some social good makes you feel better about your purchase but infusing your social decisions with some economic incentives can decrease your happiness.
Maximize your happiness by giving directly to a charity with no additional incentives.
4. Give when you know who your donation will help.
Child sponsorship programs have been putting this to use longer and better than others and while you may not like commercials showing poor kids with flies around them, putting a name and face to the cause gives you a big emotional boost. You will donate 60 percent more just when there was a name, age and picture of someone who will benefit from your donation. This is what is called the identifiable victim effect where we care more about the one person we know compared to the numerous others that are just numbers.
Maximize your happiness by funding organizations that tell you great stories of one person that your donation will help.
5. Give in public ways.
The puritanical side of you may want to keep your donation anonymous but really you want to be recognized and celebrated for your donation. It’s positive reinforcement for a good act and increases your satisfaction of giving. Letting your giving be made public or sharing it yourself also has the benefit of encouraging others to give by letting them know they are not alone (and providing some friendly social competition).
Maximize your giving by sharing your donation in public and letting the charity share it with others.