Health and Growth

GivingUSA 2019: 10 New Facts About Giving Your Church Can’t Afford to Miss

The latest Giving 2019 Report shows 10 breaking facts about fundraising that churches can't afford not to know.

GivingUSA 2019: 10 New Facts About Giving Your Church Can’t Afford to Miss
by

Paul Maxwell

The financial wellbeing of your church communicates how seriously you take the mission of your church.

One of the critical components of your financial wellbeing is the amount of money your church receives each year.

Technically, these are called revenue streams.

The better you will understand the principles and practices that help other churches succeed in establishing a secure and stable annual revenue stream, the better you will be able to set your church up for financial wellbeing and success. 

The best way to understand what works for churches is to use the best data.

What is working? 

GivingUSA, an organization that invests much of their time and energy understanding the latest trends in charitable giving, recently released GivingUSA 2019: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2018.

This report analyzes thousands of churches and organizations, billions of dollars given, and trillions of dollars spent, as it relates to the task of building and maintaining a cohort of donors to support your mission.

Thousands of churches fail to achieve financial stability each year due to unsuccessful fundraising methods.

Thousands of churches succeed in achieving financial stability through successful fundraising each year.

The GivingUSA 2019 report gives us the data we need to understand what habits, practices, and principles set up some churches for success, and others for failure.

In this article, we are going to look at exactly what are the relevant facts and best practices in church fundraising that enables churches to achieve financial security through informed fundraising practices.

1. People want to give more money more than ever before

The total U. S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 2018 was $21.3 Trillion.

Accordingly, the total charitable giving was $427.1B, making charitable giving 2% of the total GDP for the United States. 

Over the past 40 years, charitable giving by individuals increased from $32B to $292B. Inflation-adjusted, it increased still from $123B to $292B. Inflation-adjusted, it increased from $148B to $427B during the same time. 

It’s important to recognize that this number excludes giving by charitable foundations, and every other organization that gives charitably. Of the $427.1B given in 2018, $292B of that an individual transferring money from their personal bank account to a nonprofit. That’s 68% of total giving. 

The GivingUSA 2019 report itself stressed the significance of the decrease in individual giving. But this decrease is overblown, since fluctuation is more likely to occur with larger amounts of money, and the decrease was only 1.1%.

Individual giving, measured in percentage of disposable personal income, has remained relatively unchanged over the past 40 years (1978-2018), fluctuating between 1.7% and 2.2%. This just means people are spending more on things, while still sacrificing the same amount of purchasing power in order to give.

The important number to focus on is the inflation-adjusted increase from $123B to $292B, indicating a willingness on the part of individuals to give over nearly 250% more today than they were 40 years ago. Churches face a more willing and more wealthy giving base than ever before in history.

2. People want to give to your church more than anything else

Religion remains the largest recipient of charitable giving.

In 2018, religious institutions represented the largest recipient category of charitable giving, totaling 29% ($124.52B total). In 2017, giving to religious institutions was up 2.1%, and 2018 it fluctuated downward 1.5%. But overall, people want to give to religious organizations more than any other category.

This means that not only are people more wealthy and more willing to give than ever before, but they are consistently more willing to give to religious organizations such as churches than any other category of nonprofit which might compete for donated funds.

This should give churches confidence in asking their members and visitors to give, not only to ancillary social causes, but to the very religious mission which defines them as churches.

3. Partner with legacy foundations to achieve a mission that will compel members to give

Giving to foundations increased over 30% over the past 2 years. Specifically, giving to foundations increased 36% in 2017, and decreased 6.9% in 2018. This is the largest percentile increase in any category. Over the past two years, this increase represents an unparalleled surge in interest in giving to foundations in particular.

Therefore, churches would be wise to partner with foundations that are established and performing important work that aligns with their mission and values.

This would enable churches to capitalize upon the surging social interest to give to foundations that are doing good work in the form of tithes. That partnership can be leveraged to support the church’s partnership with the foundation, which benefits the church’s financial security, rather than members partnering with other foundations directly that circumvents church partnership.

4. People increasingly want to give to missions

Giving to international affairs increased 9.6% from 2017 to 2018, totaling $22.88B. This is an enormous increase in giving in this particular area. Churches would be wise to focus on the international work they are doing in their fundraising efforts, whether that international work takes the form of short-term missions trips, long-term missionary support, or inter-church global partnerships.

There is a rising trend to support this kind of work, and by showcasing the church’s work globally, the church can utilize what this data says about 2019 giving psychology to increase tithes. It would make most financial sense for churches to outsource international charitable giving when you can route those funds through your church’s partnership and consolidate your members’ giving efforts into a single revenue stream.

5. The church is riding a broad and big upward trend in charitable giving

More than half of fundraisers saw increased donations in 2018, despite economic and political uncertainty.

This means that donations to nonprofit entities are trending upwards, not downwards. This also means that the surge in charitable giving over the past 40 years hasn’t been consolidated to a thin slice of hyper-prosperous nonprofits, but is distributed broadly and represents a reliable trend of fundraising success on which churches can depend. 

In 2018, 27% of fundraisers met their fundraising goals, 17% fell short or greatly fell short of their fundraising goals, and 60% reported meeting their fundraising goals.

35% of the fundraisers for these nonprofits reported economic factors had little to no impact on fundraising, 29% reported a negative effect, and 36% indicated a positive effect.

6. Church communications will play a critical role in your financial survival 

Successful nonprofits are focused on increasing the quality of their communications to and partnerships with their donors and prospective donors. They are focused heavily on attracting, recruiting, and nurturing donor relationships. Nonprofits and churches which fail to do this are likely among the 40% of donors who failed to increase their revenue stream during 2018.

The size of nonprofit email lists grew, on average, 5%, compared to 9% in 2017. For every 1000 email subscribers, nonprofits averaged 806 Facebook followers, 286 Twitter followers, and 101 Instagram followers.

How is this relevant for generating revenue? Fundraising email revenue represented 13% of all online revenue. That 13% could be the difference between falling in the red and making it into the black. If your church isn’t building its email list, nurturing giving relationships, and using email as a tool to ask for members to sign up for recurring giving, you could be missing out on anywhere from a 10%-25% revenue increase.

7. If you want to partner with the next generation of wealth, you need to give before you get

The GivingUSA 2019 report draws heavily on a recent data analysis by Sharna Goldseker and Michael Moody called Generation Impact: How Next Gen Donors Are Revolutionizing Giving. In this book, Goldseker and Moody predict that $59T of wealth will occur from Boomers to Generation X (GenX) and Millennials. 

There are certain characteristics of GenX and Millennials which help fundraisers to better build charitable giving partnerships with these populations. For instance, GenX and Millennials are likely to want more hands-on involvement with charities to which they give. Giving2019 agrees with Goldseker and Moody that attracting and retaining GenX and Millennial donors will be critical to ensuring organizations’ long-term sustainability.

Giving 2019 gives three tactical suggestions to churches and nonprofits for longevity:

  1. Focus on data health
  2. Commitment to donor retentions
  3. Investing in sustained giving programs

Focus on data health, commit to donor retention, and invest in sustained giving programs. By data health, the authors mean fostering continual engagement, relational connection, stewardship, strong donor buy-in among givers.

By a commitment to donor retention, the authors mean that churches and nonprofits should have a system for converting new givers into recurring donors.

By investing in sustained giving programs, the authors mean that churches and nonprofits should build a subscription-based or otherwise recurring program for donors to extract value from and supply funds to the recipient.

One way that fundraisers can do this is by combining highly visible service opportunities for donors with clear, impressive, and quantifiable deliverables.

Surveying 475 individuals with investable assets of $100,000 or who made $10,000 in charitable contributions, only ⅓ of Baby Boomers made “impact investments,” while ¾ of Millennials and GEn Xers did.

If churches and nonprofits want to continue fundraising success, they must offer more “plug and play” options for donors to get their hands dirty with the work of the cause itself as one option for cultivating retention, maintaining data health, and giving recurring opportunities to refortify donor buy-in.

8. To secure household giving, you need to learn to partner with both genders

Fundraising has tended to focus on female donors.

Yet, GivingUSA 2019 found that households in which men make giving decisions are more likely to replace charitable contributions with impact investing.

9. Online giving platforms are the future of charitable giving

Online giving platforms don’t compose a majority of giving, but this says nothing of their growth and trajectory for the future. 20 years ago, online digital giving numbers were all flatlined at $0 and 0%. 

In 2018, online donor retention averaged 37% across all subsectors (p. 77), 3 percentage points lower than in 2017. This fluctuation is likely due to the novelty of these platforms and the philosophical struggle some churches face to become sufficiently tech-forward to invest in maintaining and using these platforms.

Contributions to religion in 2018 reached the fourth highest inflation-adjusted amount recorded to date. Combined with this, Millennials made over 40% of their purchases through a mobile device in 2018. These growing numbers will inevitable pair in a spike in online giving user retention, donation amount, and platform efficacy. 

The data is already hinting at this trend.

Online giving is growing in popularity for religious organizations. The amount of churches who offer digital giving options increased from 42% to 75% between 2015 and 2017. Online giving grew at more than twice the rate overall change in online giving (2.9% for religion, vs. 1.2% overall), and the number of times online giving has been mentioned during church services increased from 52% in 2015 to 65% in 2017.

Online giving is 9.6% of overall giving to religion, compared with 8.5% of overall charitable giving average.

The mean gift to religious organizations is $337 (compared with $499 overall), while the mean online gift is $195 (Compared with $147 overall). This is likely because online giving platforms are inclined toward a recurring model—that is toward a monthly tithe, as opposed to an annual gift to a foundation or acute cause of some kind. 

10. Membership doesn’t predict overall giving—attendance and fundraising skills do

Some think of GenX and Millennial generations as less religious than boomers, but this is simply inaccurate.

Millennial members of evangelical churches are engaged in more frequent attendance than Boomers and GenXers.

Denominationally, this plays itself out in clear metrics.

The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) denomination saw an increase in total contributions to 3.7%, paired with an increase in membership of 0.2%, compared with the PCUSA, who saw an increase in per capita giving of 4.7% and a decrease in overall membership of -4.6%.

The Southern Baptist Convention's membership declined -1.4% in 2018, but worship attendance increased 2.3%, and giving increased as well. 

What does this mean for giving trends?

This means that attendance—or rather, the ability to cultivate engagement and buy-in (basic fundraising skills)—predicts giving more than membership.

For example, despite decline in active members (-3.0%), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) saw a modest increase of 0.7% giving in 2017. GivingUSA 2019 found worthwhile a Baylor study found that the more materialistic a person is, the less likely the person is to have a high rate of charitable giving. This is an obvious corollary of the fact that a church must cultivate buy-in—or, some theological agreement—to generate tithes. 

This should prompt churches to become more savvy in their communications strategies. In other words, if churches desire to generate more funds in a downward trend in church membership, they should seek to cultivate engagement and participation through becoming persuasive in their message and marketing.

Conclusion

All of this data should give churches confidence that there is money to be raised, there are eager givers to be asked, and the fundamental skills of matching money with mission is persuasiveness.

Communications skills, awareness of brand strengths and weaknesses, and adaptability are evidently the critical variables which will determine whether churches and nonprofits are able to secure financial stability in the next decade.

Churches will do well to capitalize on the clarity this data supplies, seize the opportunity to secure financial stability by producing engagement through persuasion in their churches, and ought especially to implement a digital giving platform immediately to make sure that the $59T in wealth that transfers to GenX and Millennials over the next 20 years is easily transferred to their tithing practices as well.

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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GivingUSA 2019: 10 New Facts About Giving Your Church Can’t Afford to Miss