Inspiring Generosity


Giving USA 2021: Good News, So-So News

Quick Movie Review: Sure, this is a stewardship blog…but wait! There’s more! I’m channeling my inner movie critic this week because I went to see a movie in a theater which in and of itself was a momentous occasion.
On the 4th of July, I saw Summer of Soul. I urge you to run, run, run to see it. It’s a joy-filled history of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Mahalia Jackson, the Fifth Dimension, the Edwin Hawkins Singers, Nina Simone and more. It’s a cacophony of sound that will leave you uplifted and singing and wondering just how you did not know about this event before now (and it's not hard to guess why). You can also see Summer of Soul on Hulu – but it’s the big screen (and sound) that does it true justice.

Now, on to Giving USA 2021. This is an annual report published by the Giving USA Foundation and researched and written by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI. It is the yearly report of who is and how people are giving.
Here are the deets (I’m keeping the lingo hip):
1. Good News:
In 2020, Americans gave a total of $471.44 billion (that’s billion with a “b”) – a 5.1% increase over 2019. A record.

  • Individuals made up 69% of the total amount of giving, up 2.2% over 2019
  • Foundations gave 19% - an increase of 17% (most likely due to the distribution of special COVID relief funds)
  • Bequests (legacy gifts) were up 10.3% to cover 9% of all giving
  • Corporations gave 4% and were the only giving group to decrease giving – by 6.1%

Here’s the info my church friends want to know: What percentage of that amount went to religious organizations?
2. Seemingly Good-but-Not-Really News:
28% went to religion. Still the top dog in giving. A 1% increase over 2019. However, adjusted for inflation, giving was flat.

Not a terrific sign when giving overall was at a record high.
3. Good News:
Public society benefit organizations saw a tremendous gain in 2020. They received a 10% portion of the pie and saw a 15% increase in giving. Looking further, “public society benefits” refers to a variety of organizations including national donor-advised funds, United Ways and civil rights organizations. Given the murder of George Floyd and the racial reckoning that happened in 2020, it’s no surprise to see the increase in this area.
What does this mean for religious organizations? As David P. King, PhD, Karen Lake Buttrey Director for the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving says:

Yet, considering the circumstances in such a unique year, if you predicted religious giving would remain basically flat, I imagine most religious leaders would be happy with those results. Alongside the shuttering of almost all in-person services for most of last year, congregations had to find new avenues for the majority of giving that occurred through these in-person services… Lake Institute’s early COVID-19 Congregational Study found that 84% of congregations had the ability to accept contributions online before or right after the pandemic began.

So, hooray for adapting in the face of chaos and what appeared to be sure pandemic doom.
Now what?
Giving to religious organizations has been going down for years.
How are you going to adapt to the reality that people want to give – maybe not to the church but to more diverse organizations? I like one more thing that David King has to say:
…those organizations with energy for strategic planning are also realistic. They are ready to focus on repurposing existing resources to produce a more streamlined and sustainable future. To be clear, this is not a resignation of religious organizations to shrink and become a smaller, weaker version of themselves, but rather seizing an opportunity to reimagine their mission in a new context.
- It’s not a game of survival.
- Seize the opportunity.
- Reimagine your mission.
- Think of new ministry contexts.
That makes for an invigorated and exciting church – one people just may want to get behind and support.

* For more information about this year’s Giving Report, read this piece from the Philanthropy Network of Greater Philadelphia.

Cesie Delve Scheuermann (pronounced “CC Delv Sherman,” yes, really) is a consultant in stewardship, development, and grant writing. For nearly 25 years, while working as a volunteer and part-time consultant, she helped raise over three million dollars for numerous non-profit organizations. Hear the Edwin Hawkins Singers do their thing with Oh Happy Day. It’ll make you feel so good. You can reach Cesie at inspiringgenerosity@gmail.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/inspiringgenerosity or at CesieScheuermann.com.


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Cesie Delve Scheuermann
Cesie Delve Scheuermann is consultant in grant writing and stewardship/development working with the Conference. From 2008-12 she was the Conference Lay Leader for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference.