What’s New in Giving? Four Trends to Act On

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As church participation continues to decline, even the most optimistic, faith-fueled pastors are taking notice. In the midst of discouraging attendance trends, it’s essential that church leaders keep a cool head—and a prayerful heart. God’s church is designed to win, after all, so we needn’t get overly worked up over data points. Still, facts are our friends, and they can help us know how to best direct our energy, attention, and innovation to continue reaching new people with the gospel message. This is particularly true when it comes to giving trends.

Earlier this summer, Giving USA Foundation released its annual philanthropy report, detailing important giving trends from the prior year. Here are four highlights from their robust research, along with how you should act on it.

Giving Trend #1: Total Charitable Giving is Increasing, but the Number of Donors is Decreasing

2017 was a record-setting year for generosity, with charitable giving by individuals, estates, corporations, and foundations topping $400 billion for the first time ever. However, the number of households making contributions is decreasing, meaning fewer people are giving away more money.

How to Act on This Trend: Make sure you intentionally communicate with both givers and non-givers. For example, send quarterly giving statements to people who’ve not yet made a contribution to your church—not as a punitive gesture, but as an invitation to participate. And not for the giving statement itself (a non-giver doesn’t have one), but for the excellent cover letter you prepare that highlights ministry impact that results from the generosity of your people.

Even as your top givers have increased their contributions and you’re easily meeting your church budget, it’s still important to continue encouraging everyone to grow in the spiritual discipline of generosity.

Giving Trend #2: The Largest Percentage of all Charitable Giving Goes to Religious Organizations

Fortunately, religious organizations still received the biggest slice of the charitable contributions pie in 2017 (31%). While foundations enjoyed the most growth in giving by a significant margin (15.5% increase in giving to foundations compared to 3% increase overall), that major uptick came from major philanthropists giving to their own foundations.

How to Act on This Trend: Although it appears giving to churches will likely continue, now is not the time to be complacent. After all, religious organizations received 53% of all charitable dollars in 1987! Continue to help your church family see the connection between their generosity and life change. Also, take a lesson from non-religious organizations in how they communicate with and thank their donors.

Giving Trend #3: Regular Church Attendance Correlates With Religious Giving

It comes as no surprise that this year’s data shows that the more people attend church, the more they give. But, as we’re painfully aware, church attendance is declining for a number of reasons.

How to Act on This Trend: Our culture has made the shift from in-person to on-demand—for nearly everything. We shop whenever and wherever we want. We expect to be able to reach customer service representatives at all hours of the day or night. While many churches are catching on to the need for a strong digital presence, most are still insisting that “attendance” means coming to a particular location on a specific day and time each week. There’s obviously nothing wrong with Sunday morning gatherings, but we have to be willing to reach people wherever they are—and where they are is online. While you’re building your online community, check out these creative tips for increasing your in-person participation, too.

Giving Trend #4: Online Giving is Accelerating

Two-thirds of Americans bank online, which means the majority of people in our churches prefer handling their finances from their computers or smartphones. That goes for their charitable contributions, too.

How to Act on This Trend: If you don’t offer online giving, make it a priority to fix that problem before December. If you already offer a digital giving option, make sure it’s quick and easy to use.

Remember, facts are our friends. Unless you’re an Executive Pastor—and sometimes even if you are an XP—it can be tough to keep up with data and trends relevant to your ministry. Your to-do list is four miles long, after all. What giving trend will you act on first?

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