Let’s Get High
Getting high is fun, legal and easy.
The great thing about being married to a psychologist is that you end up talking and thinking about your own psychological state a lot. You find yourself asking yourself questions like, “Why did I say yes to that?” and “Why do I believe that?” and “Why aren’t I happy?” or “Why am I so danged happy?”
Asking questions like that is how I (Katrina) came to find out that I can get high, anytime, with a self-induced application of endorphins. These chemicals are responsible for making us feel happy.
And as it happens, endorphins are the chemicals that are released when people experience the so-called “warm glow effect” from making charitable donations.
We’ve known about the “warm glow effect” for 20 years or so. In a now-classic study, psychologists at the University of Oregon used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure when specific brain regions are activated.
As the study began, 19 women received $100 and were told they could keep whatever money remained at the end of the session. They then lay in an fMRI scanner for about an hour and watched a series of possible money transfers to a local food bank on a monitor. Half of the proposed transfers were voluntary — in other words, participants could decide whether to accept or reject the donation. In the other half, the proposed transfers were required (like a tax). At random times, additional money was unexpectedly added or taken away from either the woman's or the charity's account.
The study titled, “Neural Responses to Taxation and Voluntary Giving Reveal Motives for Charitable Donations” was published in the June 15, 2007, issue of Science. The authors reported the brain scans showed that three very different situations — receiving money, seeing money go to a good cause or deciding to donate money — all activated similar pleasure-related centers deep in the brain, releasing endorphins.
“To economists, the surprising thing about this paper is that we actually see people getting rewards as they give up money,” said Dr. William T. Harbaugh, a professor of Economics at the University of Oregon and first author of the study. “On top of that, people experience even more brain activation when they give voluntarily.” The authors speculated that the higher brain response to voluntary giving corresponded to the “warm glow” people reportedly experience when they’ve donated money to a good cause.
Hey, let’s face it: Scientific jargon can be a buzzkill. As everybody knows, it sounds more fun to talk about “getting high” than getting a “warm glow.”
Our friend and professional compatriot Carolyn Edrington talked to me about how she gets high. She bumped into a group to help her, and they weren’t even standing on a street corner under a flickering street lamp.
Carolyn lost her job in a re-org several years ago and decided to try consulting. Consulting is fun, hard and scary. Getting that next job takes up a lot of your time and occupies a lot of your headspace. The worry about “what’s next” can cause fear, sadness and depression. It can cause you to question your own value. Carolyn is getting high to help build her consulting practice by building her skills and network and ward off feeling down.
Carolyn told us:
“I was let go a couple years ago and am trying to be an independent contractor and consultant. I used LinkedIn for searching and came across the perfect job description, but it was titled ‘Volunteer.’ I hadn’t realized volunteer opportunities were posted on LinkedIn, so I wondered if I’d read it wrong and clicked the listing.
That’s how I found Catchafire. After some reading and digging, I was impressed. A couple applications later, and I had my first match right before COVID shut us down in March.
Meanwhile, I’ve been taking an online web development course, and now I’m ready to hang out my shingle on that front. I need to build a portfolio, so I have been seeking out projects on Catchafire with organizations that need web work. I’ve been clear that I’m new to it and want the opportunity to help them and build up my portfolio. Today, I landed an interview with a great group.
For a time, I felt I was hitting too many walls, not sure where to start, what to work on, how to get all my ducks in a row so I can be successful. Then I went to a comfortable place to breathe and spent the day reaching out to organizations through Catchafire and colleagues at Turnkey. And now I have my first interview with a client who wants me to build a web page for them!”
Carolyn used the free time COVID-19 gave her and volunteerism to jumpstart her consulting career and make herself more attractive to consulting firms like Turnkey. In an odd twist of tax law, Turnkey — and indeed all consultancies — require 1099 workers to have other clients. It’s a legal requirement for businesses like ours when using 1099s as deployable assets. Carolyn is making herself much more attractive to firms like ours because she is building her own practice, allowing us to legally place her with our clients as a 1099.
Carolyn’s other smart move was volunteering to do the exact work she wants to get paid to do. The opportunities to hone professional skills are many. A few of the volunteer opportunities on Catchafire the day we wrote this blog included: social media audit, video editing, employee handbook, translation, logo design and visual brand identity, partnership proposal presentation, board organizational guidelines and many, many more. While all volunteerism is meaningful and worthy, it’s OK for volunteering to help you, too. You can still get high on it.
To recap, there are three great reasons to volunteer your professional skills:
- Build your skillset.
- Build your ability to be hired by other consulting firms.
- Get high.
There are many organizations that can help you. Here are a few:
- SOAR365 and HandsOn (local to Richmond, Virginia, but we’re betting there is something like these near you)
- Points of Light
Carolyn again: “I can’t think of anything better than doing some volunteer work that helps a deserving small nonprofit while boosting my own skills so I can do more for my clients. I call that a win-win.”
Otis Fulton, Ph.D., spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising,” and the 2023 book, "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape," and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” She and Otis are also co-authors of the books, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising" and "Social Fundraising: Mining the New Peer-to-Peer Landscape." When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.