The More We Share, the More We Have

There’s good news and bad news for those of us who care about religious organizations.

First, the good news. The latest Giving USA report has just been released by The Giving Institute. Each year, Giving USA chronicles the previous year’s charitable giving in the United States. We learn how much Americans gave to charitable causes, the source of the giving, and the causes to which they gave.

Good news: charitable giving went up by 7.1 percent in 2014. Those gifts came from corporations (five percent), bequests (eight percent), foundations (15 percent), and individuals (72 percent). Total contributions for 2014 are estimated to be more than $358 billion.

A whopping 88 percent of all charitable giving is directed by individuals. That figure takes into account all bequests, because they come from individuals, and approximately half of foundation giving, because that much comes from individual or small family foundations.

Of particular note for religious organizations, bequest giving increased 15.5 percent. Unfortunately, most churches are diminishing the future of their ministry by ignoring bequest giving.

Now the bad news. Giving to religious causes continues to languish. While there was a modest increase of 2.5 percent, that figure falls far behind the total increase of 7.1 percent.

Why is that so?

More than ever before, we understand the motives that inspire generosity. Thanks to the ground-breaking research of organizations like The Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, we understand how faith informs and inspires giving. The United Church of Canada has given us a wonderful primer, based on hard data, of the Six Best Practices of Year-Round Stewardship.

Many practitioners have been putting these insights into practice, such as Horizons Stewardship and my own practice, Coaching for Generosity. Some Jewish congregations are dropping their dues system in favor of approaches that depend on generosity.

Too, there is a growing understanding that giving is a spiritual practice. As Dave Ramsey says in his Financial Peace University videos, “God doesn’t need your money. The church doesn’t need your money.” We human beings have an inner need to be generous. Herb Miller has been singing this song for decades! See Money Isn’t/Is Everything.

Or as Dr. Christian Smith says, in his book, The Paradox of Generosity, “By giving ourselves away, we ourselves move toward flourishing.”

It’s time to move the needle of generosity in our congregations. Not because our religious institutions need the money, but because our people will grow in faith through their learned generosity.

“The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.” Matthew 6:21.

It’s time for congregational leaders to lead their members into lives of increasing generosity.