The report is in.
Before plowing into this year’s rather depressing Giving USA report…go see a movie. Specifically, see two documentaries, “Amazing Grace” – about the making of Aretha Franklin’s best-selling 1972 gospel album and, Ron Howard’s “Pavarotti” – about the life of the opera virtuoso Luciano Pavarotti. After seeing either of these, you’ll feel like you’ve been to church…and I mean that in a good way.
If documentaries aren’t your thing, by all means, hustle off to see “Toy Story 4.” It’s funny and wonderfully sentimental. I was sorry when it ended. And…be sure to wait to see the very last credit. Don’t forget to bring hankies to all three of these highly recommended G-rated flicks.
Now, onto the results of this year’s Giving USA report.
The news is concerning.
In an economy that’s booming, giving is down. Not by a lot, but it’s down. Adjusted for inflation, total giving declined by 1.7%.
And giving to the church? For the first time ever, giving dipped below 30%.
In 2018, 29% of all giving went to religion; by far the biggest piece of the giving pie. The decline was 1.5% (a decrease of 3.9% adjusted for inflation). It’s not a lot, mind you, but the numbers are going in the wrong direction – which should give you justifiable pause.
According to Giving USA:
Giving by individuals went down, declining 1.1% in 2018 (a decrease of 3.4%, adjusted for inflation).
Giving by foundations increased by 7.3% (an increase of 4.7% adjusted, for inflation).
Giving by bequest stayed flat with a 0.0% increase from 2017 (a 2.3% decline, adjusted for inflation).
Giving by corporations increased by 5.4% (an increase of 2.9%, adjusted for inflation).
Why is giving down? The answers don’t appear to be readily apparent. Certainly, the changes in tax laws have had some impact. Unless you are giving a substantial amount of money away, you can no longer itemize for deductions. This seems to have depressed charitable donations since there's no bonus tax incentive for giving.
In addition, some folks have also decided, upon consultation with their accountant, that they will “bunch” their donations at the end of every other year to get a tax credit. For example, “I’m giving the church $20,000 on December 31. $10,000 is to be applied for 2019 and $10,000 is to be applied to 2020.” This makes the annual giving scene a bit more nuanced.
It’s complicated. Giving USA 2020 will probably provide a better picture of the longer-term impact of the new tax laws on donations to churches and non-profits. Stay tuned.
In the meantime, what should you be doing? As Clif Christopher says,
“You do not need the new 2019 annual campaign in a box. You may not even need a capital campaign. What you do need is a systematic long-term culture shift that creates not just funds for the budget but generous hearts and minds.”
Here are three ways to help that culture shift by doubling down on the old standbys:
1. Thank people for their generosity. Don’t take them for granted.
2. Tell your story. Communicate how the generosity of your donors is making a difference in the lives of people.
3. Ask people to give. Everyone is searching for a way to make a positive change in the world. You can offer them a way to be that change.
So, don’t feel too gloomy but don’t ignore the facts either. You have an opportunity to make the case that your congregation, your people – through their financial giving – are proclaiming good news and making a real difference in the world. It will take intention but you can do it. And, if you need a little inspiration, take a listen to Aretha or Luciano.