Might You Look Good Because You Do Good? Yep.
Amid the big downers of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are at least a few silver linings. One is finding the “Touch up my appearance” setting on the Zoom video preferences. Who knew that a little blur could make you look 10 years younger?
It turns out that we nonprofit types may look good for another reason. Generally, research has consistently shown that supporting nonprofit missions can have all kinds of benefits, including increased happiness, confidence, and even physical well-being.
Researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania have shown that doing good may have the same effect as the Zoom touchup feature — it can make you more attractive.
A review of three academic studies revealed that people rate others as more physically attractive if they donate or volunteer for nonprofits, support their friends and even register as organ donors.
In a study of older Americans, seniors who volunteered were considered more attractive than those who did not, even when the people doing the rating were unaware of their volunteerism level.
The same findings held true for American teens. Teenagers who volunteered for nonprofit missions were rated as being more attractive once they became young adults. And those rated as being more attractive as teens were more likely to support nonprofit organizations when they got older.
Finally, in a study of teens in Wisconsin from 1957 to 2011, young people whose yearbook photos were rated as more attractive were more likely to give money to charity as long as 40 years later. And the effect persisted over time in another way — these people were rated as more attractive than nongivers when they reached 72 years of age.
Anyone who has taken an introductory statistics course knows that “correlation doesn’t imply causation.” It may be that those among us who are better looking are more naturally generous. Still, these studies suggest that engaging in prosocial behavior could make people better looking.
Researchers attribute the charity/attractiveness connection to the “halo effect.” This is where people attribute other positive qualities to those whom they find attractive. Attractive people tend to marry spouses who are themselves more attractive and who make more money. Their largess may be due to their higher incomes.
The authors conclude that it is difficult to determine whether prosocial behavior actually makes you more attractive. But the evidence does suggest that increased physical attractiveness may be another benefit of doing good, just as it is for increased confidence and happiness.
So the next time you’re on a Zoom call with your volunteers, donors or fundraisers, and notice that there are a lot of good lookin’ peeps on your screen, it may be because they are actually good-looking, instead of because Zoom touched them up.
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.