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Do You Skimp or Go Big on Giving?


This holiday season, do you skimp or go big on giving? Consider the social capital part of the equation.

In an earlier post on giving, I reported that an economist found that for every $100 dollars a family gave, they earned $375 more than a well-matched (socioeconomically, geographically, religiously, educationally, and size-matched) family.

As the holidays are upon us, the spirit of giving is here as we see Salvationists ringing bells and collecting in their red Salvation Army buckets, or the less fortunate out in the cold, many of us are associated with charitable organizations receiving 30% of their annual donations this month. (Yes, foreseeable tax refunds may drive much of this, but there is more to giving than just dodging taxes.)

When you are contemplating just how much giving you will be doing, whether in monetary charitable donations, gifts to family, friends or work colleagues, or volunteering your time and talent, remember that you will actually be getting and improving from your giving.

Charitable giving, in addition to the aforementioned improved earning power, increases social capital and improves psychological wellbeing. The latter two, specifically boosted social capital and emotional welfare, are some of the understood means of that increased $275 in earning power. I don't know how much giving would result in diminishing returns, nor do I need to talk about emotional welfare here, but what about "social capital"? I didn't learn about social capital as a science undergrad or in medical school, and I assume many other physicians weren't lectured on it through their training, either.

What is social capital, anyways, and why do we need it, especially as physicians?

It is hard to define exactly, but one definition is the value derived from trust. If you trust someone at your clinic or hospital, for example, you do not have to question his motivation or work and therefore work better alongside him. You may go to them for advice or help, and you do not hesitate to refer people to them.

Social capital in medicine is an undervalued resource, but growing in importance as the Internet progressively broadens the scope of information available to would-be patients, partners, or support staff. With the unfortunate negativity magnified and the positivity often minimized on the Internet, every little bit of social capital, especially that reflected online to the world, is proverbially worth its weight in gold.

So back to the title question: do you skimp or go big when it comes to giving? While you may not have to go big in dollars (though it won't hurt), do go big in giving a smile, a compliment, a card, or whatever little thing you can to build your social capital this season and beyond.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice