Each June, the Giving USA Report is released revealing details regarding philanthropic giving in America for the prior calendar year. Begun in 1956 by the American Association of Fundraising Council, the report represents the longest-running comprehensive annual report on charitable giving. The report is researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy.
The first headline reports that philanthropic giving was down 10.5% from the previous year when adjusted for inflation. While gross dollars are up ($499.33 Billion), they do not compensate for the impact that inflation has had on the economy.
The second headline notes that giving by individuals declined by 6.4%. This is alarming for churches, which are solely dependent upon individual congregants to support their ministries and missions. Alongside this statistic, is the ever-increasing concern that churches are becoming more dependent upon top givers who are bearing increased loads each year. Another correlating force at work is the increase of giving by foundations. This suggests that many givers have created Donor Advised Funds as part of their strategy, meaning that the gap between the “haves and have-nots” is widening.
Headline number three concerns the continued loss of market share by religious causes. While religion continues to receive the lion’s share of the philanthropic dollar (27%), it is alarming that this share has been in steady decline for the past four decades when religious causes received 54% of charitable giving. Again, this is not an anomaly, rather, it points to the parity of dollars that are donated. The report notes that in 2022, approximately 50,000 new not for profits were started, revealing the heightened demand upon donors for solicitations.
In a related trend, the report shows a shift across all generations in giving within the religious sector. Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials are directing dollars away from houses of worship in favor of other faith concerns such as para-church ministries. We suspect that this is largely due to the clarity of para-church ministries’ cases for support which focus on meeting needs versus obligation and obedience.
Finally, the Giving USA report revealed that in 2022 that the average American gave 1.7% of their after-tax income to charitable causes. This 40-year low shows the impact of inflation as households struggle to maintain their lifestyles in light of the rising cost of living. A comparison of percentages with those who gave 4.4% during the Great Depression (1929-1939) exposes that we are not half as generous as those who lived in austerity during that era.
These highlights are being felt to some degree in most, if not all churches. Some would argue that we are just now feeling the full financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Others would cite the aging out of older church members who faithfully provided support and the increased need for churches to disciple younger generations who may not share their parents and grandparents’ values. To be certain, churches are overly dependent upon top givers and givers who are over the age of 60. What can we do to mitigate these challenges and prepare for the coming years?
1. CREATE A MINISTRY TO THE WEALTHY
When Paul mentored Timothy in pastoral ministry, he included an interesting instruction. In 1 Timothy 6:17-19 he wrote, “Teach (or command, instruct) those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. By doing this they will be storing up their treasure as a good foundation for the future so that they may experience true life.”
There are 2,350 verses in the Bible on the topic of money, yet this is the only one that speaks to the responsibility of church leadership to disciple those who have abundance. How can people “enjoy” their wealth? By using their money to do good; to be rich in good works and generous to those in need, to be ready to share, and to store up treasure as a good foundation for the future so they may experience true life!
Some wealthy people binge on their abundance for the purpose of enriching their own lifestyle. Others may bury their wealth in security, like the person with one talent. There are certainly many who focus on building wealth for themselves, like the barn builder in Luke 12. But as Christians we are called to bless others with our wealth by living like rivers, not reservoirs.
2. BUILD THE STOREHOUSE
If a person was asked to pick the most familiar word found in Malachi 3:10, more often than not the answer would be “Tithe.” However, today’s churches need to also align with the concept of building the storehouse. The storehouse from Malachi 3:10 was a section within the Temple that held the tithes for both current and future use. Unfortunately, many churches are struggling to maintain their property, personnel, and programs without a plan for future sustainability. The cost of inflation not only impacts givers, it also affects churches. Funding for the current ministry is certainly important, but church leadership needs to develop a plan for future sustainability, much like the Old Testament story of Joseph who built the storehouses for the coming famine. What is your plan for when the “skinny cows” arrive?
3. OFFER ALTERNATIVE PATHWAYS TO GENEROSITY VIA NON-CASH ASSET GIFTS AND LEVERAGE TAX ADVANTAGES OF DONATING FROM APPRECIATED ASSETS
Most of our wealth is not held in our checking accounts, rather it is in our non-cash assets such as our residences, retirement accounts, real estate, stocks and business interests. Yet churches only make appeals for cash and not from illiquid assets. If they do make appeals, they are done passively through links on their giving page. There are three broad categories of asset-based gifts that churches should offer.
There are Gifts that Help Now, which are outright gifts. There are deferred gifts that help later, such as bequests, testamentary gifts, and endowments. There are Gifts that Produce a guaranteed lifetime stream of passive income. Many have Donor Advised Funds that can make grants for Kingdom purposes.
At MortarStone, our vision is to help good people make good gifts to good causes. We are available to help guide your ministry through a comprehensive process to disciple your givers to make the switch from stewardship to generosity. We invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We’d love to meet with you and share more about how to fund your ministry today and fuel financial sustainability for tomorrow!