For major gifts, in the IRS we trust.

Tax day has come late this year, giving nonprofits a little extra time to tout the benefits of charitable giving as a way of avoiding the big hand of Uncle Sam. A whole lot of fundraisers – including within faith based organizations – truly believe that without the incentive of a tax deduction, giving would drop like a proverbial stone.  And a whole lot of their fundraising appeals are geared more to donors’ self-interests than to their heart-interests.

 So much for fundraising as ministry. When major gifts are at stake, it is in the IRS we trust – or so it seems.  Yet, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University reports that

studies have consistently revealed that tax incentives are not a sufficiently significant motivation for donors to give or to cease to give. Issues of wealth, income, and the financial security/insecurity resulting from them are more indicative of giving levels. Results from the 2008 Bank of America Study of High Net-Worth Philanthropy indicate that slightly over half of wealthy households would not change their contributions even if they received zero income tax deductions for their giving.

The top three reasons donors of all capacities give are: first, they want to make a difference; second, people give to people – to leadership –and they want to know that their investment will be stewarded well and will help others; and third, they hope to inspire other donors to join them through their giving. These reasons have not changed in this economy – they continue to be the driving motivations for philanthropy.

Interestingly, the lure of a tax deduction is missing from the top three motivators, and that brings me back to the possibility of fundraising as ministry. As Thom Jeavons and I wrote in Growing Givers’ Hearts, “Gift giving, elicited and received as an act of grace and faith, can be a powerful occasion for spiritual growth.”  This is true on tax day and all year round.

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