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President's Post

Philanthropy is the Love of Mankind

By Tyson Voelkel '96

President, Texas A&M Foundation
President Tyson Voelkel '96

Recently I had a fascinating phone conversation with Dr. Jen Shang, one of the world’s thought leaders regarding philanthropic psychology. As director of the Hartsook Center for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom, her research centers on donor behavior, nonprofits and the idea that giving benefits the giver just as much as the beneficiary.

Dr. Shang reminded me of something fundamental to the Texas A&M Foundation’s line of work: The word “philanthropy” literally translates to “a love of mankind.” Philanthropic psychology, then, is the psychological science behind how we can grow individual capacity to love humanity. At a micro level, it’s about studying why individuals choose to give and how it makes them feel.

I found our discussion particularly relevant and insightful during our Lead by Example campaign, and I left the phone conversation invigorated by a few key insights:

There should be a living benefit for donors. Every five to 10 years, the number of charitable organizations an individual can give to doubles. That’s why, as fundraisers, it’s so important that we accurately communicate the myriad benefits of giving to Texas A&M—and ensure that those benefits live on long after an investment is made. Our most important job is to listen to how friends and former students want to affect change at the university, because philanthropy is personal: Each person will feel his or her money is most impactful to Texas A&M in different ways.

Sustainable philanthropy is about building relationships. This was music to my ears, since I often hear our fundraising staff say that establishing relationships with donors is the best part of their jobs. Often, repeat giving is as much about a love for the cause as it is a love for the people surrounding an individual’s philanthropic acts—whether that be our fundraisers or beneficiaries like students and faculty.

Humans have three psychological needs: competence, autonomy and positive relationships with others. According to Dr. Shang, acts of philanthropy help an individual achieve all three. By giving, individuals can feel competent in loving other people; autonomous in the control they have over how they love other people; and satisfied in building positive, warm and caring relations. Through fulfillment of these needs, individuals can achieve growth, clear purpose and self-acceptance—elements of psychological wellbeing. Our challenge, then, is to ensure that the act of giving to Texas A&M is psychologically gratifying.

As we continue the Lead by Example campaign, we certainly have to focus on meeting our $4 billion goal and what that means for the advancement of Texas A&M. But my conversation with Dr. Shang reminded me that we can’t be so focused on the goal that we overlook the most important thing: the people who choose to give—those who choose to love humanity through philanthropy. Here at the Foundation, we can’t be too busy to care about that. We must push ourselves each day to serve the university and our donors in the most effective way possible.

Thanks for all you do.