As we embark on a new year of ministry, churches are reflecting on the impact that our economy has had on their annual fund. Many churches have experienced a decline in their general offerings when compared to 2021. Some churches have experienced modest increases which have been positive, but at the same time are not keeping up with inflation rates. The Giving USA data shows that not for profit organizations, including religious causes, are increasingly dependent upon their high capacity givers. In other words, fewer people are giving more, creating an uneasy sense of vulnerability. It is not uncommon for us to see 80% or more of gifts coming from just 10% of the givers.
I recently read an old saying among philanthropic advisors that was shared by Sarah Fonder-Kristy, who said, “When times are good, people give. When times are bad, people give. When times are uncertain, people hold on.” This quote especially resonates when I consider that people living in the Great Depression gave 4.4% to charitable causes, compared to the 1.8% given in 2021 from disposable income.
Rising inflation, upward trending interest rates, and a significant loss of investments call for church leaders to be creative in how they approach their givers in 2023. Below are 6 proven strategies for combating these uncertain economic times.
Church leaders must tie dollars to impact to show how their church is solving local and global needs. These results can be shared formally through annual reports and giving statements, but for more immediate impact, it is essential to communicate through weekly offering moments, the giving page of your website, and regular email communications. These “Did you know?” moments connect the heart as well as the head. G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “There are only two things that can move us: a story and a person. And even then, the story must be about a person.”
Time is more valuable than money because, after all, we’re willing to spend money to save time. Many high-capacity donors may be unwilling to make a one to three-year commitment to a ministry position, but they may be willing to serve on a ministry project one time per month. It is important for you to provide as many volunteer opportunities as possible that can be life-giving while still accommodating their busy schedules. By connecting givers to the actual work of the church’s mission, vision, and values, you will help them become more deeply connected. Remember, for your core givers (Band 2, 3, and 4), money follows time. But for your top givers, time follows their money.
One of the key mistakes church leaders make is assuming that tough economic times mean that givers will be less generous. While elements of that statement may be true, we do a disservice to our givers by making the decision for them. No one is inspired by, “I know we’re in financially tough times, but if you can give a little bit, we’d be grateful.” Or, “If you don’t feel like you can afford to give right now, we understand.” Present your giving opportunities while resisting the temptation to make excuses for your givers.
One of the most complex challenges that high-capacity givers face in any church is to find affinity and meaningful relationships. Our culture has conditioned us to categorize people by economic status, making it difficult for wealthy people to find people they can connect with. Wealthy people are cautious about discussing success, promotions, raises, or a second home for fear of conveying arrogance. If you think about it, the wealthiest givers in your church are often the most marginalized. The Apostle Paul instructed us to “weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.” (Romans 12:15) The truth of the contemporary church is that we are much better at weeping with those who face adversity than we are at celebrating the successes of those who have attained it. Church leaders must invest time in their top givers and provide a safe space for them to talk about their lives. You’ll be surprised that many have unvoiced challenges and struggles.
Throughout our nation’s history, churches have traditionally solicited gifts of cash from their member’s income. At the same time, our friends in the not-for-profit sector have discovered the key to funding their cause and fueling their sustainability isn’t found in cash gifts. It’s found in non-cash assets. As we commonly point out – 97% of what we steward is in non-cash assets. How can you leverage asset-based giving when inflation and interest rates increase, and the stock market declines?
- DISCIPLE YOUR GIVERS TO CREATE ADDITIONAL INCOME THROUGH A LIFE INCOME GIFT
For those who want to create income, we recommend two options – Charitable Gift Annuities and Pooled Income Funds. These are excellent options for givers to create additional income and make an end-of-life gift with a modest investment from either cash or non-cash assets. No attorney is required, and the application process is simple and free. The only expense is a small fee for administration, which is set at the industry standard.
- DISCIPLE YOUR GIVERS TO GIVE APPRECIATED EQUITIES
Even though the market is down, many givers hold stocks that still have a great deal of appreciation which would trigger capital gains taxes should they choose to sell them. Givers can donate appreciated stock and then repurchase the same stock and readjust their cost basis.
- DISCIPLE YOUR GIVERS TO GIVE FROM THEIR INDIVIDUAL RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS
IRAs are one of the most common retirement plans in America. It is estimated that 80% of us own an IRA. Qualified plans such as IRAs require owners to pay ordinary income tax on the proceeds they receive. When a person turns 70.5 years old, they can begin to make a Qualified Charitable Deduction up to $100,000 per year from their IRA to any qualified church or charity. Then when the owner turns 72, he or she is eligible to direct their Required Minimum Distributions to the Church or charity. They will not receive a tax deduction for the gift, but they will avoid paying tax on the distribution.
- DISCIPLE YOUR GIVERS TO CONSIDER A DONOR-ADVISED FUND
Donor Advised Funds, also known as Giving Accounts, allow givers to create an account that allows for an immediate tax deduction and the ability to give to one or more qualified charities over time. This strategy helps alleviate “gift bunching,” where a donor may give every other year in order to itemize their taxes and then take the standard deduction during the off year.
These are just a few ways church leaders can help their givers give from their assets. Charitable giving tools like those above are designed to help the giver. This is called “giver-centric philanthropy,” by which we help our givers maintain their charitable intent through tax-advantaged strategies.
It has been said that givers give the first time because they’ve been asked and give the second time because they’ve been thanked. Handwritten thank you notes, simple gifts, having a cup of coffee, and thank you dinners for financial leaders are all ways church leaders can convey their sincere appreciation for financial support. Appreciation from the platform is good, but the most effective appreciation is personal. As my friend Brian Rose likes to say, “The whites of their eyes matter.”
We at MortarStone know that church leaders are skilled in sharing the “why.” This touches on our theological beliefs about giving and our case for support which quantifies and explains the needs your church is trying to help. Even though you may be comfortable answering the “why” question, you may not be adequately prepared to show givers how to give. In 2022, we surfaced nearly $13,000,000 in gifts for our clients. Non-cash giving is not bound to having either wealthy people or being in a particular geographical location. If you’d like more information about bringing clarity to both of those questions for your givers, we’d love to have a conversation.