29 November, 2022

A Macro View on Generosity

by | 1 November, 2022

By Kent E. Fillinger 

Giving USA 2022: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for 2021 reported charitable giving rose for its fourth consecutive year, reaching its highest level in history, $484.8 billion. Total giving increased 4 percent in current dollars but decreased 0.7 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars.  

About two-thirds (67 percent) of total giving came from individuals, the fourth straight year individual giving totaled less than 70 percent. The wealthiest 1.4 percent of the country accounted for 86 percent of charitable donations, according to the Philanthropy Roundtable. Giving is highest among those in their 60s and 70s.    

Charitable giving since World War II has remained consistent. Americans tend to give about 2 percent of their disposable income and 2 percent of the gross domestic product to charity. But the Giving USA 2022 Report showed that givers donated only 1.8 percent of their disposable income in 2021, the lowest percentage in over 100 years (a time frame that includes the Great Depression). 

Fewer than half of American households now give to charity, down from two-thirds in the early 2000s. Giving USA found that 62 percent of religious households give to charity, compared with 46 percent of nonreligious households. This trend is extra troubling when noting that 44 percent of Generation Z (those people born 1997 to 2012) and 42 percent of millennials (born 1981–96) identify as “nones” (people who claim no religious affiliation). 

The Almanac of American Philanthropy reports that those who attend religious services regularly give to secular causes at more than double the rate of those who seldom or never attend religious services. Over half of evangelicals (54 percent) named a secular organization as their favorite charity to support, according to a recent report by Infinity Concepts & Grey Matter Research. Those who give to charity tend to support three to five organizations.  

Religious giving decreased by 1 percent from 2019 to 2021, based on inflation-adjusted dollars. Giving to religion was still the largest percentage of total charitable giving in 2021 (28 percent), but has seen a steep decline since 1989, when it was 60 percent.  

Recession Fears? 

As I write this in July, economists are predicting a recession. History shows that charitable giving in the United States is as likely to go up as down during recessions.  

But donor pessimism grew during the first half of 2022 as the economy wobbled and inflation rose. An online survey in April by research firm Campbell Rinker (sponsored by Dunham & Company) found the highest levels of pessimism among donors since 2008, the first year of the survey.  

A Federal Reserve study found that 78 percent of Americans described their household’s financial situation as “good” or “excellent.” Less than half (48 percent) rated the state of their local economy the same way, and only 24 percent described the national economy as good or excellent.  

Pastoral consultant Dave Travis noted, “People tend to be optimistic about their own life but feel pessimistic about the world around them.” Church leaders shouldn’t automatically let national fears influence their church’s financial decisions; each local situation is different, and it varies from church to church. 

Eighteen percent of donors in the Rinker survey said they planned to give less in 2022 compared with 2021, 55 percent said they planned to give the same amount, and 21 percent planned to give more. More than one-third (35 percent) said inflation was a reason they planned to decrease their giving this year. 

The last two annual surveys of Christian churches and churches of Christ found that in almost three-fourths of our churches, giving levels were at or above prior years; this was positive and encouraging. Most churches also reported a higher level of cash reserves each of the last two years. So, it will be telling to see how our churches fared in 2022 when they report their total giving in our next survey in January 2023.   

The Positive Side 

The good news is Americans have more money in savings today than before the pandemic. At the end of March, households had $18.5 trillion in various bank accounts, $5 trillion-plus more than before COVID-19, according to Federal Reserve data. Two-thirds of Americans (68 percent) say they have money for an emergency. At the end of March, checking account balances for low-income families were 65 percent above 2019 levels. And the growth in retirement accounts has resulted in fewer people (below 50 percent for the first time) saying they expect to work past their early 60s.  Many people used the federal stimulus checks to pay down their debt.  

Church Giving 

Financial giving to the church is often the last thing a new believer or new church member does . . . but also the first thing they stop doing if they become upset with something or someone in the church or when money becomes tight. 

The five primary reasons people give to the church include (in no particular order):  

· Need—people like to give to campaigns and special appeals  

· Vision—people give to support a clear and compelling vision  

· Emotion—stories of life change and heartwarming appeals prompt gifts  

· Relationship—people give when they trust the staff and elders, and when they have connections with others in the church  

· Obedience to God’s Word—many people in your church know and understand that the Bible commands believers to give 

What if everyone in your church took the next step in their generosity journey? Everyone is in a different place when it comes to generosity and giving, but each of us can pray about our next step and then take it. I have provided four action steps your church’s leaders can take to help prompt people to take their next steps. Find it at ChristianStandard.com/fillinger22-sidebar.  

Kent E. Fillinger

Kent E. Fillinger serves as president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and regional vice president (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan) with Christian Financial Resources.

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