The Economy and Charitable Giving

Sam Rainer

June 23, 2008

The Wall Street Journal reported today that charitable giving hit a record in 2007, breaking through $300 billion for the first time. The story pulled from an annual study by the Giving USA Foundation, which scours census data to derive their conclusions. Despite the record in giving on an absolute basis, however, the growth in giving has slowed recently. This excerpt from the report:

The relative slowdown in giving is attributable to increasing economic uncertainty that pervaded much of the back-end of 2007. Economic woes intensified last summer amid high gasoline prices, real-estate market turmoil and a burgeoning credit crunch.

Less-robust giving could continue throughout 2008 as the economy has worsened. “There’s a lot of economic and political uncertainty right now and people don’t like uncertainty,” said Patrick Rooney, director of research at Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy, which researched and wrote the annual giving report. “Uncertainty is the enemy of investment. In some ways, uncertainty also hurts philanthropy.”

This uncertainty was reflected in another study by Dunham Company:

Spokesman Rick Dunham says his organization found that the surge in gas prices has influenced giving. About 48 percent of those surveyed said gas prices were affecting their giving, while 48 percent also indicated that the economy had influenced their giving.

One of the concerns I have as a pastor is how inflation in gasoline and food prices, combined with the real estate and credit downturns, will affect giving. It’s this uncertainty that makes me uncomfortable about making large budget additions.

But what surprises me at my church is the lack of a correlation between factors that one might typically think drive giving. For instance, the correlation between our giving and attendance week-to-week is negligible. And our per capita giving has gone up slightly despite volatility in the stock market.

These studies covered giving at all charitable organizations, so perhaps segmenting churches out of the mix would tell a different story. Unfortunately, this breakdown was not provided in the stories.

What about you guys? Has your church noticed any changes in overall giving? And how do these changes affect your plans for the future?

4 comments on “The Economy and Charitable Giving”

  1. Trey Kelly says:

    Sam, long time man. Good to see you are doing well. Take care.

  2. Sam Rainer says:

    It has been a while. But glad to hear you’re doing well. Let me know how the church plant goes!

  3. I’m thinking para-church ministries will feel the pinch more than churches. Because people (rightly) will prioritze their church when it comes to giving.

    I don’t know if it will be an indicator, but we (Serve Our Youth Network) had more people at our banquet than last year, but less money donated. Not a good trend.

    More one-time gifts, fewer monthly donors.

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