The Impact of Religion on Philanthropy: The Highlights

Yesterday, The Giving Institute conducted a live webcast titled, “The Impact of Religion on Philanthropy.” Full disclosure, I don’t have a written report yet so this is relying on my memory. And, because I am used to receiving a copy of a webinar or their slides, I didn’t even take detailed notes. I have confidence that the report will be released soon, but in the meantime, here are some things to chew on.

Religious giving goes beyond religious organizations

Even if you work at a secular organization, this report is relevant to you. Why? Because people who are involved in religious organizations give more to secular organizations, too.

  • Jews, statistically, tend to give to social service organizations in addition to their religious giving (and give the highest amount of believers to any other religion)
  • Muslims are trying to establish community centers at their mosques to create deeper connections to their local towns and cities
  • Various Christian faiths are considering how to help the values that encourage giving within the church setting to extend far beyond.

If religious organizations are thinking about secular organizations – shouldn’t the opposite be true?

Religious institutions continue to receive the greatest share of donations in the United States, yet they tend to be the least sophisticated at organizing their development programs.

Religious organizations have relied on the same methods of fundraising for decades. If an organization has online giving, they think they have kept up with the times. Consider:

  • If the people in your pews are not using mail, or even email, as their primary communication, how are you going to keep in touch?
  • If the older generations are the only people determining your mission, development strategy, and focus you will only attract older donors
  • VCRs were once cutting-edge technology. Many people had to have the time set by their children or grandchildren, but it was worth it to record Cheers, Seinfeld or Beverly Hills 90210 (no judgments). Now technology can help you engage, update and solicit, don’t let the status quo turn away your future congregants and donors.
  • There are many people thinking about new ways of membership and fundraising (including our own Kerry Olitzky), you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to enhance your development and fundraising programs.

The biggest takeaway should be that any friction to giving will shift a donor away from a gift to your organization. For example, a colleague told me she tried to give two different gifts to Jewish nonprofits helping in hurricane relief. Neither went through because of technical difficulties in the on-line giving portal and both lost her donation.

Faith in Action

I heard the term, Faith in Action, as a way to describe showing impact to millennials and I was sold. A quick Google search shows how many different faiths use the term, but I like the idea of a general term to show the future of our religious organizations.

Older generations may like a good image and story about the difference they can make with a donation to a nonprofit. Younger donors seem to be looking for the impact they can make.  They want to participate in making change and see their friends and family do the same. They want to see Faith in Action.  A synagogue or church can raise money for hurricane victims or they can create a trip in which congregation members are seeing their community making a change. Thus, they donate to help create a deeper impact through the congregation. Which do you think appeals to younger donors?

Sure, there are other ways they can see or experience a volunteer trip, but if it is through a religious organization, it shows that the organization wants to put faith in action.  And that makes the religious institution the place that shares their values within religion and beyond.

Giving drops to religious organizations after age 65

What is interesting about this statistic, as someone in the audience questioned, is that after age 65 should be a time of increased giving.  Often, there are fewer financial constraints so why would giving decrease? They believe that as individuals age, they start to physically decline and attendance drops. That translates into fewer experiences in the synagogue/church/mosque/your favorite place of worship. As a lot of giving is related to attendance, if they are not attending, they are not being asked to give.

Note: This is something we come across a lot in annual and capital campaigns.  Some people don’t attend yet continue to feel a spiritual connection.  Don’t say no for the donor.

As the report comes out, I will provide further information and keep you updated.  Until now, take a long look at how you are doing things, and let us know if we can help you create a new strategic plan that will move you forward with donors of all ages.


Considering how to make change, read

6s Do’s and Don’t’s for Disrupting Your Nonprofit 

Pareto’s Principle is No Longer the Standard in Fundraising

The Most Common Fundraising Mistakes …and How Not to Make Them