National Giving Trends, The Good, The Bad, And The Helpful

Every year the premiere generosity report, Giving USA, is delivered for charitable organizations to review. The research is conducted and reported by the Lilly School of Philanthropy at IUPUI. This report is highly anticipated by development officers of nonprofits across the country but is largely unknown to local churches. 

I know pastors are very busy people and can’t be up to speed on all the latest findings. At Generosity by Lifeway, we are automating the expertise and systems of a full-time Generosity Pastor for churches. If you will follow our newsletter, we will make it easy for you. We will keep you both up to speed with trends and empower you with best practices.

Here are some key insights from the Giving USA 2018 report:

  1. Total charitable giving is up again. This is the fourth year in a row that charitable giving has reached historic highs, which is obviously good news.
  2. Church giving receives the largest amount of charitable gifts. Charitable giving is divided into sectors by the recipient organization type. Giving to religious causes (largely segmented as local houses of worship) receives the highest percentage of all gifts, 31%. This again is good news.
  3. Individual givers are driving giving success. Seventy percent of charitable gifts come from individuals. Which is another bit of good news for local churches because they are populated by individual givers. The large amounts given via foundations that you often hear about from the likes of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett would be in addition to those amounts given directly by the seventy percent.
  4. Church giving by percentage is on a steep forty-year decline. As stated in #2, giving to religious causes receives the largest amount of gifts when compared to other sectors. It is at 31%. However, in the 1980s, religious giving received 58% and has been on a steady decline every year. This is not good.
  5. The number of individual givers is also on a steady declining pattern. So while overall giving is up and individuals are driving that, the total number of givers is headed downhill. This means givers are just giving more each year and that there are fewer of them. So right now, we are on a fun white water rafting ride, however, a waterfall is ahead!
  6. Individual giving is stuck at two percent of personal income. It has been this way for decades. Those in the development business often refer to this as “the dreaded two percent,” because it has not moved up for a long time. I view this as the church’s responsibility, given it receives the largest amount of donations driven by individuals as the largest segment of donor types. So, church leaders, we are failing, sorry.

So, here are some practical applications to lean into. The work of growing generosity is actually getting easier not harder. Here you go.

  1. Givers are more than willing to give. Be confident and provide them the opportunities they need. Most giving people make contributions to a number of organizations every year. They are on the lookout for giving places. When passion meets opportunity, people give. Seek to inspire and provide both.
  2. Make giving fun. God is a generous God. That DNA resides within every human being, believer or not. Then when the power of redemption takes over, giving becomes spiritually exhilarating. It is the way Jesus lived. Historically, the church has led with budget need or teaching on the duty of tithing. Neither makes giving fun and enjoyable. Nonprofit organizations do not lead with either. Their story is of immediate impact and legacy, which is inspiring!
  3. Make giving easy. The number of adults that carry their checkbooks with them is becoming less and less. Those that have large amounts of cash on them is also declining. Both online and kiosk giving were once leading technologies. Now, people are using their smartphones to conduct more and more of their activities. I pay my bills, deposit checks, and manage my finances completely from my smartphone. If giving takes more than 3-4 clicks on a smartphone or involves pinching/stretching a screen, it is too hard. Check out our giving app and other platform services at if you need to modernize your options.
  4. Prioritize new givers. If your church is being sustained by a small percentage of people who are giving more and more, that is not good. I know it may feel good at the moment because giving looks strong. However, under the surface, a problem is lurking, and it will get you on another day. Every year your church will lose givers. This fact is unstoppable. They need to be replaced. You will never receive a second, third, or fourth gift until you receive the first one. Focus your attention on growing first time givers.
  5. Create a growth plan for all givers. Statistics also tell us that children raised in generous homes are more likely to be generous as adults. So your church’s generosity future is currently in the hands of those who are earning no wages. These families that may currently be struggling financially or just launching into their careers and their kids that may or may not receive chore money are your future. Do not allow income levels to drive discipleship. Grow giving kids.
  6. Reach people. The number one stat that is the most consistent generosity indicator is the number of people actively engaged in living the vision of the local church. The more involved someone becomes, the more times they give and the more they give. This means that givers start in your community as the possibility of being guests one day. They begin their journey outside the family of faith. A lack of new givers is not a money problem, it is a spiritual problem. Reaching people is the single most important activity of any local church. Money is not the mission.

I hope this helps. Feel free to check out our blog, social media, or podcast (The Generosity Podcast) for practical help from generosity experts. We also provide a curated library of church resources on the topics of generosity and stewardship at Unleash giving today!