Giving USA 2021 Report
Giving USA, which issues the oldest and most comprehensive report on charitable giving in the U.S., recently released its report for last year. The report contains mixed and helpful news for religious organizations, such as local churches and Conferences.
On the positive side, giving in 2020 rose 5.1% in current dollars over 2019 to a whopping $471.44 billion. Adjusted for inflation the increase was 3.8%. Certainly nothing to sneeze at and very impressive considering 2020 was a pandemic year! Giving by individuals continued to be the biggest source of contributions accounting for 69%, or $324.10 billion.
On the concerning side, the “Individuals” slice of the contributions sector continues to decline. Over the last 35 – 40 years, giving by individuals as a percentage of overall giving has declined by 13% from 82% to 69%.
On the positive side, giving to religious organizations (defined as congregations, denominations, missionary societies, and religious media) grew by 1%, during a year when many anticipated that giving would decline significantly, and represents 28% of the overall recipient pie.
Again, on the concerning side, when considered in light of the 5.1% overall growth of charitable giving, the 28% represents a decline in the share going to religious organizations. A decline that has been slow and steady over the past 35 years as it has gone from 58% to 28%, a drop of 30%.
During this same time period other sectors have seen considerable growth, such as Human Services, Public Benefit Societies, Education, Environment, and Health.
Additionally, the number of nonprofit organizations that people can give their charitable dollars to has exploded from 693,000 in 1997 to over 1,365,000 – an increase of about 51% in just 23 years!
Two significant, related trends that have paralleled the growth in nonprofit organizations and are implied in the Giving USA 2021 report are: 1) people are increasingly concerned that their giving makes a positive impact; and 2) people don’t see the “church” or religious organizations as their only option. Rather, the church is seen as one option among many.
What does all this mean for the local church?
On the positive side, it means that people continue to be generous when they see a need. During the Covid-19 pandemic and the accompanying health, economic, and racial crises, people stepped up and provided much needed dollars.
On the challenging side, people have more options now than ever regarding where to direct their generosity, and the church is in direct competition with these other options. Simply put, the church faces stiffer competition today for people’s discretionary dollars (and volunteer time and talent!) than ever before.
Hence, church leaders who realize that for many in their congregation the question has largely shifted from “How much should I give to the church?” to “Why should I give to the church?” will discover that they are solidly aligned with the shifts and trends in our society.
The implications of these shifts and trends are enormous. To begin with, the church must make the case for why it is a worthy recipient of people’s generosity. It cannot depend upon their sense of obligation and/or duty.
Churches that: 1) are grounded in mission and purpose; 2) are strongly oriented toward serving human needs in their community and within the congregation; 3) have a capacity for strategic thinking and planning; and 4) are effective at communicating how they are changing people’s lives and meeting human needs have the best chances for raising the funds they need to support their work.
We would all do well to remember an old adage in the philanthropy world that applies equally well to churches: Money Follows Mission!
Another trend that accelerated during 2020 was online giving. We saw within the SNEUCC that churches offering an online giving option fared far better financially than those that did not. Importantly, one nationwide survey of nonprofit organizations found that for the first time in its history “donors of all ages (emphasis added) said they were more likely to give online than by mail. Sixty-six percent said they made an online contribution last year, and 60 percent said they gave by mail.”
My friends, we can do this!! As I wrote in an earlier reflection Transition or Transformation?, the pandemic is an opportunity for transformation into a new way of being and doing ministry. Many of our churches have taken this opportunity and transformed their ministry focus and their stewardship/generosity/fundraising practices. This is very good! However, some have not.
I strongly encourage those that have yet to examine their focus and these practices to similarly take this opportunity do so, and then to make any necessary adaptations. For example, what is your church’s mission; why and for whom do you exist; how are you transforming people’s lives and your community; does your church use a narrative budget that connects how it is stewarding it finances to implement its mission?
We have been given the greatest privilege I can possibly imagine, namely, being invited by Jesus to join him in creating a more just, compassionate, loving, and inclusive world for all, human and non-human alike; i.e., to carry on his ministry and grow the Kin-dom of God.
And directly related to Jesus' invitation, we also have the great privilege of inviting and encouraging people to live more deeply into the image of our amazingly generous God that we were created to be by becoming increasingly generous with our time, talent, and treasure (see my 5/1/2020 Reflection). BTW, I passionately encourage you to reflect upon the ways you have personally experienced God’s/Christ’s generosity in your own life.
Please contact me if you want to explore more fully the Giving USA 2021 report, its ramifications for your setting, and/or the societal shifts and trends regarding religious fundraising. Also, please regularly visit our Stewardship, Generosity, Fundraising & Financial Management web pages for resources to assist you in your ministry as your Development Team keeps updating them. For example, I just posted a 4 Part series on Generosity developed by the UCC and the Lake Institute at IU Philanthropy that has lots of good, helpful information.
Thank you for your generous support of the SNEUCC! It is deeply appreciated and never taken for granted. Please let me or my colleague, Lee Gagen, know how we can support and assist you in your financially related ministries as we all work together in our respective settings to fulfill the mission of the SNEUCC!
Your brother in Christ and fellow sojourner in the faith,
Rev. Dr. David Cleaver-Bartholomew is the Director of Stewardship and Donor Relations for the SNEUCC.