New Realities In Giving Post 2008 (Revised July 2013)


I originally wrote this post in June 2012. Though most of what I wrote then is still true, there are some new observations.

We are now four and a half years removed from the greatest economic adjustment of our generation. It was a perfect storm of a crash in the equity market and the housing market. Historically, we have had adjustments in the equity market and adjustments in the housing market, but we have not had large simultaneous adjustments. This one was so significant that it is taking a while for the US to recover.

The impact has been far reaching.

A lot has been said about the impact on churches. In reality, about 1/3 of churches are up from 2008-2009, 1/3 are down and 1/3 are flat. Despite what many may say, the economy is not the main reason for that, except in a few cases. The downturn in the economy may have accentuated the effect on some, but internal factors actually have a lot more to do with the downturn in giving.

The bigger effect of the economic adjustment has been on the mindset of givers. As the people in our churches think about their giving, their paradigm has shifted. Prior to 2008, money was “easy come, easy go.” Don’t worry so much about where you give it because you can always make more. Not true any more because our hard earned dollars are harder earned than ever before. As a result, donors are now much more careful in where they want their money to go.

If you are planning an accelerated giving initiative of any kind — annual giving, capital funds, ministry venture capital or legacy giving, among others — there are new realities in play. To optimize the success of any giving initiative will require taking these realities into account.

  • Increased vetting of giving options. People are a lot more careful where they give in the post-2008 era. The tendency is to give more money to fewer, carefully selected choices. Givers will vet their charitable options according to criteria they have established which will include among others, ministry impact on people, transparency of financial disclosure and stewardship of resources.
  • Portfolio management perspective. This one is huge. Prior to 2008, we saw this primarily among high capacity givers. Now we are seeing it at all levels. People are investing (i.e., giving) to churches and ministry organizations where the highest “ROI” is perceived. ROI is defined as impact. In other words, what results is the church or ministry organization getting. The big shift is that givers will move money from those they perceive to be “low performers” to “higher performers” in terms of impact. Churches cannot assume their people know — they have to make sure they have told the church’s story well and have clearly demonstrated the impact of their ministry.
  • Reducing debt is more popular than it has been historically. At least for now. This is the after effect of seeing what debt did to people and organizations in the economic adjustment. For years, church members have had low motivation toward giving initiatives that were focused on reducing or eliminating debt. For now, reducing or eliminating debt is seen as a real positive and givers are motivated to invest in it. It is reallocating funds from debt service to ministry!
  • Transparency about finances. Historically, churches have not disclosed a lot of financial information. However, people now want to know more about where their charitable giving is going. The want to know how the church is doing — income statement and balance sheet. Churches do not get a pass on this, especially among younger donors.
  • Givers, especially younger ones, want mobile giving options. Many of the younger givers in churches want to be more generous, but the church does not make it easy. The primary giving means is the offering during worship services. Givers want to be able to use their smartphones and tablets to give right there on the spot. It is not enough to ask them to remember to go home and do it online.

If you are planning any other kind of strategic giving initiative, pay attention to these new realities. It may well be the difference between exceptional and ordinary when it comes to results.

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