Do You Know the Faces of Giving in Your Congregation?


Do You Recognize the Faces of Giving in Your Congregation?

When I first started getting serious about development work, I found myself in a good old-fashioned used bookstore.  On the shelf, and only for $6, sat The Seven Faces of Philanthropy (1997 and reprinted in 2001) by Russ Alan Price and Karen Maru File.  It was my lucky day because this book helped me see that there are at least seven reasons why people are motivated to give:  

•    The Communitarian:  Doing Good Makes Sense.  Generally, these are people in your church who are small business owners.  They see that helping others makes good business sense because, by getting recognition for their donations, it might drive people to try out their business.  26.3% of people who give are in this category.

•    The Devout: Doing Good is God’s Will.  The church knows all about this group.  They give because they believe that it is part of their religious practice/duty and that it’s in God’s plan for them to give. We love these givers!  20.9% fit this category.

•    The Investor: Doing Good is Good Business.  These donors have one eye on their impact to the church/nonprofit and one eye on tax and estate implications.  Price and File say, “Investors calibrate their giving to take advantage of tax and estate benefits and therefore want to work with non-profits [and churches] that understand these concerns.”  15.3% of the population view themselves as “investors.”

•    The Socialite:  Doing Good is Fun.  Because of certain celebrities (think Paris Hilton), the term “socialite” has gotten a bad rap.  But, this person wants to support a great cause by having a good time.  Think about any of the youth/choir/mission auctions or other events you hold.  People experience community, have fun, and give money for a meaningful purpose.  It’s not a bad thing to have a good time.  10.8% are in this category.

•    The Repayer: Doing Good in Return.  The church is full of people who are “repayers.”  You may not know it, but you probably have people who are coming to your church because their AA group has been meeting there, they have benefitted from a parenting class you offered, or someone at a church gave them financial assistance when they were having a hard time.   It’s now their turn to pay it forward.  10.2% of donors are considered “repayers.”

•    The Altruist:  Doing Good Feels Right.  We in the church love these kinds of donors too – they are easy and uncomplicated.  They give because they just know it’s the right thing to do.  Often, they give anonymously and want little to no public recognition (but they still want to be privately thanked).  Altruists, in far greater proportion, give to social causes.  They represent 9% of the population.

•    The Dynast:  Doing Good is a Family Tradition.  Families such as the Kennedys or the Rockefellers immediately come to mind.  But think more locally, and you’ll find families in your community and maybe in your church, who fit this bill too.  One caveat:  younger Dynasts will often identify themselves with different churches or philanthropies than their parents.  8.3% of major donors are Dynasts.

The quick takeaway:  Your congregation is not a monolithic entity.  Recognize (and celebrate) that there are a variety of reasons and motivations that prompt people to give.  Some may want to give a grant, bid at an auction, or have their business recognized – in addition to putting a check in the offering plate.  Provide multiple opportunities and ways for people to give to the glory of God.  You may just see God’s work being supported even more generously.


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.