The Role of Religion in Philanthropy

The Role of Religion in Philanthropy

Development professionals periodically analyze the demographics of their donor base.  They determine there are certain sectors that have been especially supportive of their organization.  For example, people who have received caring benefits for themselves or their family members often become generous supporters.  Staff members, past and current, represent some of the people who are most dedicated to the organization and therefore will give so the organization can be sustained and perpetuated.  Additionally, they may have used wealth search engines to assist in the identification of likely neighborhoods where individuals have the capability to support your cause.

All of these factors are very important.  Almost certainly, your organization has identified the key demographics of your donor base.  We want to remind you of one important area that some organizations have not recognized.  This, statistically speaking, is one of the most important factors in American philanthropy – Religion.

The theory is long held that the Judeo-Christian ethic has been the major influence on the history of philanthropic development in the United States.  Certainly the teaching of these two religious worlds is replete with admonitions to ‘tithe’ or ‘give as one has been prospered’.  Religious adherents are typically among a community’s most generous citizens.

This assertion of the generosity of the religious community is supported by regular studies of the American giving public.

The Gallup organization reported that “Religious observers (only 38% of all Americans) give 2/3 of all charitable dollars in the United States.”  So, even though the number of people who attend a religious service regularly are declining, now about 1/3 of Americans, they still account for about 2/3 of what is given.

Gallup also recognized the generosity factor in another way: “Religious observers (those who attend weekly services) give 3.4 percent of their income annually, while nonreligious people give only 1.1 – 1.4 percent.”  Their survey also discovered “Households that give to both religious congregations and secular organizations give over 3 times ($2,247) more than do households that give only to secular organizations ($623).

Further, the George Barna group, which does extensive research on churches, reported that 26% of all who contribute to a church also give to some other non-profit organization.  That is a much higher percentage than gives to charity form the general population.

So while preachers, pastors and organizational directors may occasionally fret about the support of their members/donors, it is important to remember that folks who go to church are still statistically speaking the most generous people around.  This tendency has implications whether we are concerned about the weekly contribution in the offering plate, a potential major gift or possibly including a ministry in an estate plan.