Giving Trends Are Shifting

Every year a new annual report of sorts is delivered on the state of charitable giving in our country. It is called Giving USA and there is simply no better resource for the most current data on previous year’s generosity stats and trends. The report is extremely comprehensive reflecting on a myriad of studies across all sectors of charities. As usual, I seek to provide a  summary response to the highlights I believe church leaders need to embrace to become better generosity leaders. This year the trends and shifts are such that it warrants three blog posts. This is part one addressing the major items relating to a big-picture view of generosity. Future posts will address digital giving, types of gives, and church size along with how marketplace generosity is setting the pace.

  1. Good news, charitable giving has experienced another banner year. Historically speaking, charitable giving has hit its highest marks in the last seven years. Another way to express this exciting news is that the total dollar amount given to charities in the US has never been better! There is an undeniable spirit of generosity. People are finding causes that are making a difference and they are investing big time. Causes are also making giving easier and more rewarding than ever.
  2. Good news, charitable giving to religion is receiving the largest portion of the gifts. So you are aware giving to religion is largely measuring contribution patterns to local houses of worship. Faith-based causes addressing education, health, or social causes are not included. Local houses of worship receive 29% of all charitable gifts. We receive more than double the second-place recipient at 14% to education. For years, researchers have strongly indicated that faith is a massive motivator when it comes to generosity. The more we grow, the more we give. (Note that I did not say the more we preach on money the more people give.)
  3. Bad news, giving to religion continues to decline. While giving to religion makes up the largest part of the charitable contribution pie (29%) this figure has been in steep decline for decades. To give perspective, local houses of worship received as much as 58% of charitable contributions in the 1980s. So the church is receiving roughly half as much in terms of percentage as it previously did. This is significantly bad news that needs a significant leadership response. There are far more causes today being presented in convenient and compelling ways. Faithful institutionally loyal church givers are diminishing. Please hear me, church giving has a dangerous cliff in its future!
  4. Bad news, charitable giving as a percent of personal disposable income continues to be flat at 1.9%. For decades this figure has hovered around 2.0%. Of all the sectors of charitable giving, only one cause has a principled value of percentage giving, that sector is the local church and its 10% tithe. When you consider that 68% of all charitable gifts come from individuals and that the church receives the largest percentage of charitable gifts, we really must own this lack of percentage giving growth in my opinion. Percentage giving will only increase as the church takes the lead. We can actually bless other causes. How generous is that!
  5. So so news, the increase in total dollars given to charity was largely driven by major level donors ($1,000+ annual gift). General and Mid-Level donations actually declined along with the total number of givers. So the net result is fewer people giving more dollars. This also has been a trend for the past 15 years and is only poised to increase as Baby Boomers move more firmly into their fixed-income retirement years. Many churches have been experiencing plateaued or even a slight increase in giving, but are completely unaware that it might be derived from fewer givers. Whole denominations are seeing participation numbers decline while overall giving is being maintained. This obviously does not have a long tail of success. Very soon the tide will change and both givers and giving will decline. The future funding of the church is at stake today.

So here are some strategic takeaways:

  1. Every church regardless of size or age needs a generosity ministry that is fully organized, strategized, and resourced like other key ministries. Generosity growth can not be left to the pastor to preach more on money or for the finance office to hold off spending. It needs and deserves a team-oriented approach with a well-resourced plan. You will reap what you sow. You will get back what you put in.
  2. Generosity is a powerful force in human life. This is being recognized both inside and outside the faith. Marketplace generosity is an acknowledged department in many companies with expectations across all layers of employees. It is seen as good for company morale, the brand, and the community. The church has been strategically shy on this topic for decades but has begun to slowly shift towards a more confident approach. We serve a generous God with a generous gospel. We should be setting the pace instead of lagging behind.
  3. Every type of giver needs a growth plan. The tithing or bust message is not as helpful as one may think. The push for a capital campaign or one-day offering can create a short-lived surge of resources, but not accomplish long term personal growth that is both enjoyable for the individual and sustainable by the church. Financial generosity is a fruit of several other spiritual disciples going well. We need to chase transformation over financial transactions.

I hope this information has been both helpful and inspiring. If you have not checked out the one-stop generosity shop at please do. We have every resource you need to unleash giving in your church. Be on the lookout for Part 2-Online Giving Growth For Small/Medium Sized Churches.