Tuesday, November 12, 2013

You can change the world... give more money away

I refuse to be depressed by the news that giving to religious organizations in North America is at an all time low, comparable only to the level of giving during the Great Depression. Giving as a percentage of GDP has remained rather steady at 2% (see more statistics at the bottom of this post), but has remained depressed since the recession of 2008 and is not anticipated to recover until 2018.

Given that religious organizations are losing a percentage of this total giving each year as a percentage of total giving, I could get frustrated... but I refuse.

Here's why.

It forces us to get creative

In the past three years I have done more creative work inquiring into alternative income streams for ministry than ever before in my career. I regularly write grant proposals, research Kickstarter and other funding platforms, learn from planned giving specialists, and voraciously absorb stewardship best practices ideas. I'm still a novice, but I'm learning.

I'm especially trying to learn best practices from organizations outside of the church and religious section. Cross-pollination between non-profits of all kinds and the fund-raising work of the church is a necessary win-win situation. We can all learn from each other. Non-profits can learn from religious organizations how year after year we make up the largest percentage of charitable giving, and we can learn from non-profits why some of them are gaining on us.

It teaches us to trust God

What I've learned is there are three really good ways to raise money for the ministry of the church, and none of them work that well. But we keep trying. If it were easy to raise money, if it were simple to convince ourselves to be more generous with our resources, we would tend to trust our techniques rather than God.

I can't give up, because there is a world in need

Right now, I am inviting everyone I know to donate money to Lutheran World Relief for humanitarian disaster assistance in the Philippines. The money we donate to LWR will make a greater difference to people on the ground in the Philippines than acquiring a new book or CD or t-shirt. To be quite clear, a book will sit on your shelf. A gift to LWR may save a life.

I have to keep asking all of you, and inviting myself, to give more, because it makes a difference, an immense difference, in the lives of our neighbors in need.

Typhoon Haiyan: You Can Help

The fall stewardship appeal keeps getting more fun

A lot of church leaders (and likely parishioners) get nervous at the fall stewardship appeal they conduct each year. It's not the end all/be all for encouraging benevolence to the congregation, but it is a worthy tradition. We need to hear God's call to support the ministry of the church financially. You can give your time. You can offer your presence. But if you really want to set the church free, if you want to make your church the kind of church that does amazing and gospel centered ministry, the most important thing you can do is give it such lavish and surprising gifts that it is overwhelmed with financial mission support and has to pray over what to do with the surplus.

If you want to make such a donation to a great Lutheran ministry and its mission development in Arkansas, here's your chance to do so. This year we began a much-needed transition to offering on-line giving. We plan to keep growing in this area.

When we give money away, we are free

Nothing is a surer sign that we have really heard and responded to the gospel than when we start giving ourselves away. The gospel, that we are free in Christ, sets us free, and freedom looks like no longer grasping and holding tightly the things that bind us. The most lavish givers, the free-est gifts, arrive and arise out of profound freedom. We give, expecting nothing in return, anticipating that the gift will help the neighbor in need.

Some charitable giving statistics
How big is the sector?
  • Total charitable giving rose for the third straight year.
  • Total giving to charitable organizations was $316.23 billion in 2012 (about 2% of GDP). This is an increase of 3.5% from 2011.
  • As in previous years, the majority of that giving came from individuals. Specifically, individuals gave roughly $223 billion (72%) representing a 3.9% increase over 2011.
  • Giving by bequest was $22.14 billion (down a whopping 7%), foundations gave $47.44 billion (up 4.4%), and corporations donated $18.97 billion (up 12.2%).
  • Corporate giving accounts for just 6% of the total giving in 2012 which is actually a 12.2% increase from 2011.
  • Most types of charities saw increases in donations. The two exceptions were Religion and Foundations.ArtsEnvironment and Animal organizations saw the largest increase which indicates that donors may be returning to their personal giving priorities (which they strayed from during the height of the recession in favor of supporting Food Banks and other Human Services charities).
  • Historically, Religious groups have received the largest share of charitable donations. While this is still true in 2012, the percentage dropped by 2% from 2011.
  • Even with the decrease in donations, 32% of all donations went to Religious organizations. Much of these contributions can be attributed to people giving to their local place of worship. The next largest sector was Education with 13% of all donations.
  • Billionaire donors are starting to give at rates not seen since the beginning of the economic downturn.
  • Revised Giving USA data shows that total giving as a percentage of GDP has barely strayed from 2% over the past four decades despite the huge growth in the number of charities. This figure climbed to a high of 2.3% in 2000, but otherwise tends to gravitate to 2% of GDP.
  • Total giving in 2012 was 8.2% below giving in 2007, before the charitable sector felt the effects of the recession. If the pace of growth in charitable giving stays constant in the coming years, giving will not rebound to pre-recession levels until 2018.


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  2. Thanks so much for lifting up Lutheran World Relief - we just posted a suite of resources for congregations related to the typhoon response, and will keep adding and updating! For you or anyone else in this blogging community who would like to use them: http://lwr.org/haiyan/resources