Why People Give to Religion

Photo of a Collection PlateQuick — name the top three reasons why you and others give to religious organizations.

1. ____________________

2. ____________________

3. ____________________

Okay, now hold on to your hat!

According to Clif Christopher, here are the top three reasons people give to religious organizations:

“Number one is a belief in the mission. Number two is a regard for staff leadership, and number three is fiscal responsibility.”

Solid advice. Those three things are basic — if you don’t have them, you can’t even begin to engage donors on other instrinsic motivations to give.

For another look at why church-goers support their congregation, three sociologists studied two congregations – one evangelical, one mainline Protestant — to determine how money is “made sacred” in those congregations. In the evangelical congregation, the act of giving itself – the giving of God’s money – was sacred; the focus was on the individual and a personal spiritual life. In the mainline congregation, what the money did – the difference it made in accomplishing God’s work – was sacred, reflecting a more utilitarian focus on the outcome of giving.

Digging a little deeper but not necessarily on religious giving per se — in 2009, the Center for Philanthropy undertook a study, “Understanding Donors’ Motivations.” It is worthwhile to read the entire report, or at least the executive summary. But, in short:

  • One in five donors say they give to help meet people’s basic needs.
  • Lower-income donors (less than $50,000) sa they give to “help the poor help themselves.”
  • Donors with incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 say they give to “make the world better.
  • Donors with incomes of $100,000 or more say that “those with more should help those with less” and they give “to make my community better.”

As I mentioned, however, it’s a good idea to read the full report, as there are nuances that could help you begin to understand your own congregation.

Having said all of that, nothing is more informative than your own personal research. Grab the top 10% of supporters in your congregation, take them to coffee or lunch, and ask them what really gets them excited about your congregation’s ministry.