Generosity

5 Things Pastors Can Learn from the Giving USA 2018 Philanthropy Report

Here are five actionalbe lessons pastors can learn from the Giving USA 2018 Philanthropy report.

5 Things Pastors Can Learn from the Giving USA 2018 Philanthropy Report
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In 2017, charitable giving jumped to a record annual high of $410.02 billion in the United States, according to a report released by Giving USA. Charitable giving increased by 5.2 percent ($14.27 billion) from last year, which caps an increase of $98.96 billion in current dollars between 2007 and 2017.

In accounting for this surge in charitable giving, the findings point to the influence of a booming stock market and a healthy economy. Across the board, the vast majority of charitable sectors analyzed experienced an increase in giving.

The Giving USA 2018: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year is chock-full of insightful charitable giving statistics, and it includes several practical applications for church leaders.

Before divulging the key takeaways, I’d like to point out one pertinent observation:

Your church and the charities in your town are still in need of your financial support.

Several mega-gifts—charitable donations that are $300 million or more significant—buoy the numbers shared in the reportto foundations, which reported a growth rate (15.5%) three times larger than overall giving. The generous mega-gifts to foundations, universities, and hospitals positively skewed the charitable giving contributions upward.

Here’s what you need to know about your church:

Giving to religious organizations is on a steady decline, and member giving in churches is at its lowest levels since 1968, which is 2.17 percent of income as of 2015.

As a church leader, it’s essential to be aware of these national trends, as well as tracking giving in your church. Since money is tied so closely to someone’s faith, having your finger on the pulse of your church’s giving will provide you with a good idea of how your church views their relationship with money—and God.

What pastors need to know from Giving USA 2018

After pouring over hundreds of pages in the Giving USA 2018 report, we pulled out five key takeaways and anecodtes church leaders should be aware of. Here are the key points we’re going to share:

  1. Giving is tied to discipleship
  2. Why small gifts matter
  3. Promote recurring giving
  4. Discipling wealthy church members
  5. Growth of online giving

Let’s get started!

#1. Giving is tied to discipleship

God talks a lot about money.

There are thousands of verses about tithing in the Bible, scriptures on saving money, and biblical stewardship.

God doesn’t talk about money because he needs anything. He talks about money so often because he knows that money is the most dangerous idol you and your church will face (Matt. 6:24).

In leading your church to give, one way to help your congregation make the connection between their faith and money is through encouraging participation in the life of your church.

Sharing results from a previous study, we read this in Giving USA:

The report finds an exponential relationship between worship attendance and giving to religion.

Also, they also shared this finding from Catholic Parishes of the 21st Century by Charles Zech and Thomas Gaunt:

Zech and Gaunt state that one of the main reasons for lower donation levels among Catholics is that Catholic giving is closely associated with Mass attendance, and that Catholics shy away from pledges and regular tithes.

To encourage your congregation to give, continue to preach the gospel, teach the Bible, and encourage people to participate in the life of your church. Leading your congregation to Jesus is the only surefire way to unleash generosity in your church.

#2. Small gifts matter

The size of a gift doesn’t matter. It’s the heart behind the donation that counts.

After observing a poor widow donate two small copper coins into the temple treasury, Jesus said:

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44, NIV).

The amount this widow gave wasn’t significant per se. But the donation was notable for her regarding her percent to income.

After seeing the data from Giving USA 2018, you might feel concerned that your church collects smaller monetary gifts or that you’re unable to reel in a mega-gift from your community.

Here’s the deal:

Small gifts matter to the heart of your people, and a collection of small financial gifts can amount to an abundance of generosity.

According to one study, the average adult in a Protestant church in the U.S. donates $17 per week. As you teach your congregation how to honor God with their money, let them know that they have the freedom to give from what they have (2 Cor. 8:12). This is a liberating truth for many church members who may struggle with guilt from not being able to give more than what they can.

#3. Promote recurring giving

Regular monthly donations lay a solid foundation for your church’s finances.

On average, people who make recurring donations give more frequently and more per year.

As a church leader, it’s essential to lead your congregation to automate their giving. Not only will this allow you to forecast a predictable source of donations, but you’ll also be able to overcome on the most significant adverse trends in giving.

Based on the Giving USA 2018 report, we discover this pertinent point:

Religious giving trends indicate that regular attendance directly correlates to donating; if congregants are not attending services, they are not contributing.

Regardless of the church you pastor, your congregation will come and go for a variety of reasons. From business trips, illness, and vacation, the members of your church will miss more than one worship service, which means they’ll be inclined not to give.

To lead your church to regularly give when they are or are not present, encourage them to set up recurring giving online. At Tithe.ly we understand the importance of recurring givers, so we made it super simple for people to set up recurring giving with a few clicks.  

#4. Disciple wealthy church members

In Giving USA 2018, we know that mega-gifts from the ultra-wealthy positively skewed the charitable giving data upward.

You may not have someone in your church prepared to write a $300 million check or more. But there’s a strong likelihood that you do have wealthy individuals or families in your church.

There’s a chance you’re avoiding the wealthy members of your church or not having the conversations you need to have with them. If this is the case, then there’s a good chance you're doing these members a disservice in their Christian life.

You see, wealthy people face unique challenges. They face a genuine possibility of not entering the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:24). And, what is more, as a pastor, you’re charged to challenge the wealthy members of your church to set their hope on God—not their money or possessions (1 Tim. 6:17).

Be involved in their life, and don’t shy away from having gracefully direct conversations about the relationship of their faith and money.

#5. Cultivate online and mobile giving

To no surprise, online giving continues to surge.

Here are several eye-catching points of data from Giving USA:

  • Data from the 512 respondents suggest that use of digital giving solutions has increased from 42 percent of congregations in 2015 to 74 percent of congregations in 2017
  • Online giving to religious organizations analyzed by the Blackbaud Index grew in 2017 and outpaced growth in giving through more traditional methods.
  • Overall online giving grew 23 percent for reporting organizations in 2017 (compared with 15 percent in 2016), with monthly renewal giving increasing 40 percent.
  • One-time online gifts grew 19 percent in 2017.
  • The overall number of online gifts increased 28 percent in 2017.

What you need to know is that online giving and mobile giving will continue to increase as more and more people use smartphones and move away from using checks or cash for payments. In fact, according to Giving USA, payments made by checks decreased from 46 percent in 2003 to 15 percent in 2013.

Leading your church to adopt online giving is easier said than done.

In a different study by Dunham+Company/Campbell Rinker, they reported that most churches in the United States offer online giving (74%). However, many churches—in particular, smaller churches—observed a decrease in online giving from 2015 to 2017.

As you reflect upon the giving trends in your church, have you observed an increase, decrease, or flatline with online giving? Regardless of where you find yourself today, here are nine proven strategies you can use to increase online giving in your church.

Over to you

Staying up to date with the latest trends in charitable giving will help you to better lead your church in their relationship with money.

Preparing for the surge in online giving and mobile giving will prove to be more important as time goes on.

As you promote the latest tools in giving, be sure to always point your church to live and love like Jesus. As they daily surrender their life to the LORD, they will receive the grace they need to transform into generous givers (2 Cor. 8:1-12).

Why Write Church Donation Letters?

In a previous blog post, I shared the different ways your church can thank donors—from automated emails to year-end giving reports. Printed donation letters also play an essential role in your church’s stewardship efforts.

Donation letters are the Swiss Army knife of your church’s gratitude arsenal. It may not be the most powerful—but it’s versatile, handy, and gets used often.

Your basic church donation letter can serve many different purposes, including:

  • Acknowledging that you received a donation
  • Thanking the giver for being generous with their finances
  • Sharing other ways the person can support your church
  • Allowing the donor to write the gift off on their taxes
  • Encouraging supporters to make recurring donations
  • Requesting future donations from church members

A single, well-crafted donation letter can pull together several of these things simultaneously. Better donation letters lead to more giving, which leads to more donation letters—thus creating a cycle of on-going church generosity.

Church Donation Letter Samples

Here’s the good news—you don’t have to write an individualized letter for every person who gives to your church. That would be tough to do for even smaller churches. And most donors don’t expect you to. They’d rather you be putting their gift to better use in the community, instead of ceaselessly writing thank you notes.

With the possible exception of some unique circumstances, your church can use template language for the majority of your church donation letters. You’ll have to add in custom details like the donor’s name and gift amount, but you can write everything else in advance.  

To make this even easier on you, here are a few basic church donation letter templates you can copy and paste. Keep in mind that not all of these have to be in print—you could just as easily turn some of these samples into email appeals.

1. Donation Acknowledgment Letter

The Donation Acknowledgement Letter is a basic way you can confirm and affirm a monetary gift to your church. Sending these is standard practice in church and nonprofit culture.

Dear [first name],
I want to personally thank you for your donation of [gift amount] to [church name]. We’re honored you would bless us with your generosity. Donations like yours make a big difference in the work our church is doing in the community.
Without givers like you, our church can’t have an impact or influence in our community. With your support, we’re partnering with local nonprofits, sending out global mission trips, and hosting small groups on topics that help real people like you. Together, we can make a difference.
Because we’re a tax-exempt nonprofit, you also get to write this donation off on your taxes. This letter serves as official proof of your donation, so keep it in your records come tax season. At the end of the year, we’ll also send you an annual recap with how much you’ve given to the church.
Thank you for supporting [church name]!
Sincerely,
[your name]

2. Donation Request Letter

Not every church member realizes the importance of giving, or understand Bible verses about tithing and giving.  So a Donation Request Letter helps to spread that awareness and encourage a spirit of generosity.

Dear [first name],
How are the finances in your household? That was a rhetorical question, so you don’t have to answer—besides, this is a letter so we wouldn’t hear you anyway. But we still want you to think about that question.
Money is a uniquely human issue, one we all struggle with to one degree or another. Even if you’re financially blessed, you still have the burden of stewarding your money wisely. And we believe that one of the best ways to invest your money is into the local church.
Tithing (giving 10% of your income) on a regular basis not only supports the work we do at [church name]. It doesn’t just support local missions and community growth. It also shows an obedience to God by making his work a financial priority in your life.
So if you find yourself ready to put God first in both your heart and your wallet, we encourage you to make a one-time gift or sign up to make recurring donations. That way, you won’t have to ever wonder again about the financial status of your household.
Sincerely,
[your name]

3. Monthly Giving Letter

Many church donations aren’t just one-time gifts. Plenty of givers contribute monthly—and that should be acknowledged.

Use this template to correspond with recurring givers.  

Dear [first name],
Thank you for being an active and faithful member of our church community. By giving to our church on a monthly basis, you’re showing that our church has a meaningful place in your heart. We just wanted to write this to let you know that you’re in our heart, too.
Donating to the church monthly allows us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and support others in our community who need help. Others like the local food bank and the nearby homeless shelter. We’re answering the cry of the needy, and it’s all thanks to contributors like you.
We earnestly appreciate your ongoing support and want to let you know we’re here for you. If there’s ever anything we can do for you and your family, don’t hesitate to reach out. You are a valued member of our church family. And you’re financial support is making a difference.
Sincerely,
[your name]

4. Year-End Giving Letter

At the end of each year, it’s customary to give your church supporters a summary of their gifts. The primary reason is for tax purposes, but it’s also a way to recap everything your church has done over the past year with their support.

Dear [first name],
You’re getting this letter because you gave to [church name] at some point during the past year. That might have been a one-time gift, or recurring donations. Either way, we want to thank you for your generous support. Every contribution helps.
One of the official reasons for this letter is for tax purposes. That’s right—you get to write these donations off on your taxes. Which is why we’ve included a summary of all the contributions you’ve made to our church this year.
But the other reason for this letter is to let you know what we’ve done with the money you gave. We take stewardship very seriously, which means we value spending our time and resources wisely.
During the year, our church supported local nonprofits, sent global missions teams, and baptised quite a few people. It was a great year for us—thanks in large part to donors like you.
So thank you for your support of our church, and we hope you’ll consider continuing to contribute to our mission in the coming year.
Sincerely,
[your name]  

5. Church Fundraising Letter

Sometimes you need to make a more significant financial push using tried and true church fundraising ideas. Some churches call this a Stewardship Campaign or a Church Capital Campaign. Either way, the goal is to raise a certain amount of money for a big project. And typically, a solid letter of appeal is an integral part of that.

Dear [first name],
God has a plan for everyone and everything. That includes you, and it includes [church name]. None of us can fully know God’s plan—the best we can do is pray and listen for clarity. Our church leadership has been doing just that and are excited to announce our latest church project.
[Detail the outline of the major church project—this could include a building campaign, or raising support for a global mission trip. Anything specific to your church that requires a fundraising letter. Be sure to include a fundraising goal so everyone knows what you’re shooting for.]
But we can’t pull this off without your support. Whether you give to the church on a regular basis, or just attend on occasion, we’re asking you to consider contributing to this massive undertaking prayerfully. It’s something we need our entire church community’s help with.
Even if you can’t make a large gift, know that every little bit helps. It’s more about coming together as a community united behind a common cause. We hope that you’ll consider making a donation towards this great step forward that we’re making together.
Sincerely,
[your name]

Tips when writing church donation letters

It’s not enough to just copy and paste this content and send away. The key to an effective church donation letter is a touch of personalization. Follow these tips to take your donation letters to the next level:

  • Examples: Add specific examples of how your church will use the donation. Tell a story about the work your church is doing in the community and connect that with giving.
  • Personalization: For regular donors, don’t be afraid to add a short, handwritten personal note. This shows that you’ve singled them out with praise.
  • Timeliness: Sending donation letters quickly reminds people you’re thankful for them. But this also takes organization and efficiency. All the more reason to use pre-written templates.
  • Storytelling: Everything is better with stories—including donation letters. Weave in a specific narrative of how your church is making a difference and how the money will be used.

There’s no one right or wrong way to write a donation letter or request contributions. You’ve got to do what is right for your church and congregation. But if you stick to these general tips, you’ll probably start to see some traction when it comes to giving.

What’s next?

Most people don’t love talking about money in church. But it’s a necessary and vital part of your church. And maximizing your efforts when it comes to donation letters will help make those conversations more comfortable. So what do you do next to put this into effect?

  • Customize these letters: Take the samples above and make them work for your church. Personalize the content. Remove the stuff that doesn’t sound genuine and add in stuff that does. Remember that these are just a starting point.
  • Create some systems: Develop processes that make it easy for you to replicate sending donation letters. Use a letter template that allows you to drop in names and details. Then develop guidelines for when these letters will be sent out.
  • Empower a champion: Find out who is going to be responsible for making these letters happen. Rather than thinking of this as adding more work to their plate, think about how you can elevate their work. This could be a staff member, or a volunteer.
  • Start sending: All of this will be for nothing if you don’t actually send out the letters. Take the time to get it right and get them into the hands of your church donors.

And if you’re looking for ways to grow your church’s giving capacity, Tithely can help.

We provide several different ways your church members can support your church financially—from online giving, text to give solutions, and giving kiosks.

Tithely’s systems make it as easy as possible for people to give to your church. Now all you need to start doing is generating a culture of gratitude. There’s nothing standing in your way. Go unleash generosity in your church.

How does your church use donation letters to spread generosity? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Robert Carnes. Robert is a writer and storyteller. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. A former church communicator and nonprofit marketer, Robert works as a managing editor for Orange in Atlanta.

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5 Things Pastors Can Learn from the Giving USA 2018 Philanthropy Report