Globe Santa has brought a smile to a child’s face on Christmas morning nearly 3 million times since 1956, because over those decades donors have given close to $50 million to provide toys, books, and games to go under the tree.
Many of those donors likely contribute to other causes. Maybe they supported hurricane relief in Texas or Puerto Rico. Perhaps they donated to food drives. They may have bought a meal for a homeless person, or given to a collection for a family in need.
All those acts of kindness are born of a mix of what scholar Paul G. Schervish calls “mobilizing experiences.” Since the 1980s, Schervish, a retired Boston College sociology professor and former director of BC’s Center on Wealth and Philanthropy, has studied why people give to help strangers they may never meet. There are four major mobilizing experiences, Schervish said in a recent phone interview, though behind every donation is a mix of two, three, or all four.
“The first one is identification with the fate of others, as if they were myself, my children, my parents,” Schervish said. Behind any donation, he continued, is empathy for the recipient, a sense that if circumstances were different, the donor could be in need of the same thing. When people give to Globe Santa, a program of the Boston Globe Foundation, they can easily imagine themselves in the place of children on Christmas morning, he said.
“We know people at Christmas that get gifts. We got gifts,” Schervish said. “Let’s say we didn’t get gifts — we know what that’s like too. And we identify with people and their needs.”
The second mobilizing experience, he said, is a feeling of “gratitude for blessing — the experience, from your childhood, of having a break, luck, a good teacher, fortune, born with wealth, born with brains — you could name a million things.”
People often say they do good for others because they “want to give back,” Schervish said.
“People are mobilized by gratitude, and they wish to provide that grace, that blessing, that break to others,” he said.
People also give out of a desire to create positive change, he said, and to have the sense that in some way they can shape the world around them.
“What mobilizes people is to be world-builders, as much as they can,” he said. “And sometimes, in a very small sphere, people without a lot of money can do something very significant.”
Schervish said the fourth cause is “the nourishing experience that caring for others brings, a nourishing experience to oneself as one brings a nourishing experience to a beneficiary.” Giving makes the giver feel good, he said, because “it is mutual nourishment that brings us happiness.”
These feelings are universal, he said, but how they play out in the world depends on individual interests and experiences.
For more than 6,000 people last year, the choice was Globe Santa. Thanks to their generosity, the program raised over $1 million and was able to give Christmas gifts to 35,570 children in eastern Massachusetts.
Please consider giving by mail or telephone or at globesanta.org.
Daily lists of donors will begin running Sunday in the newspaper. To find a donation listing online go to https://globesanta.org/secure/search.aspxJeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org