Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors. Where are the givers?

Despite a whopping $290 billion in charitable giving in 2010, individual donors are no more generous now than when giving data was first collected some 40 years ago – a finding that has the U.S. nonprofit sector in a dither. Fortunately, our nation’s philanthropic intelligentsia are on the case.

This past June, 36 nonprofit leaders, scholars,  technology suppliers, high-profile consultants, and association heads gathered in Washington, D.C. for a day-long confab aimed at finding the cure for what’s ailing giving in America. (Check Blackbaud TV for comments from participants.)  Four themes dominated their agenda:

  • Improving the quality of fundraising education and professional development.
  • Enhancing relationships between donors and the organizations they support.
  • Building public trust and confidence in the nonprofit sector.
  • Identifying new forms and channels for giving.

Interestingly, missing from the above list is what I consider THE challenge ahead for the U.S. nonprofit sector — the decline in church attendance among Americans.  If you question my concern, consider the following factoids from Giving USA.

  • Seventy-four percent of those who participate at least occasionally in worship services give to charity, while only 50 percent of those who never attend do so; and the more often one attends the more likely one is to giving.
  • Religious households give 87.5 percent of all charitable contributions, averaging over $2,100 in annual contributions to all causes.
  • Persons of faith are 25 percentage points more likely to donate money and 23 points more likely to volunteer time than the general population.
  • Persons of faith are 33 percent of the population but make up 52 percent of donations and 45 percent of times volunteered.
  • Religious practice by itself is associated with $1,388 more in an individual’s giving per year.

The long-term impact of declining church attendance is obvious – at least to me. As fewer people find their way into America’s churches, fewer people are encouraged to give as an expression of their faith. Empty seats in houses of worship translate almost immediately into fewer dollars contributed to all kinds of charitable causes – both faith-based and secular.

Which brings me back to my surprise that the philanthropic gurus at the June summit overlooked the close ties between religious faith and generosity. It’s as simple as the childhood hand game. Here is the church. Here is the steeple. Open the doors. There are the people/givers.

If this post piqued your interest, I encourage you to (re)read “Reaching Millenials through stewardship evangelism,” “Teach your children (to give) well,” and “Down to their last tithe.”

What's your take on this topic?

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