Clergy role tied to faith giving

Congregations with clergy aware of their giving trends and with younger people attending were more likely to see positive fundraising results in the first half of 2011 and first half of 2012, a new study says.

Yet 49 percent of more than 3,100 congregations responding to the study, by the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, say their clergy are not aware of how much is donated to the congregation or who gives, while 45 percent say their clergy are knowledgeable about those trends.

“While many clergy are reluctant to delve into information related to individual giving, it is via their giving that many donors turn their beliefs into a way of living,” William G. Enright, the Karen Lake Buttrey Director of the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving at the School of Philanthropy, says in a statement.

“Donors do not see this form of pastoral care as offensive or intrusive,” he says. “This study demonstrates how important it is that clergy are knowledgeable about the congregation’s giving and that they are willing to talk about financial matters with members and attendees.”

Congregations attended by people with a younger average age saw greater increases in fundraising receipts between 2010 and 2011, and between the first half of 2011 and 2012, compared with congregations attended by people with an older average age, says the 2013 Congregational Economic Impact study.

Nearly 60 percent of responding congregations reported increases in pledges and dues payments received between 2010 and 2011, while 31 percent saw a decrease and 10 percent reported no change.

Sixty-three percent reported fundraising receipts grew during the period, while 26 percent reported a decrease and 11 percent reported no change.

Most congregations that reported increases in fundraising receipts in 2011 from 2010 attributed the increase to a greater number of donors or higher average gifts, while those reporting a decrease attributed it most likely to a declining number of donors or lower average gifts.

Seventy-four percent reported they believed they had fared well or very well financially in weathering the recent economic downturn, yet only about four in 10 congregations had actual revenues that kept pace with or outpaced inflation between 2007 and 2011, the study says.

Nearly half of responding congregations reported budget increases for 2012, compared with 2011, with increases likely to be allocated for salaries, outreach programs, mission activities, and revenue-generating activities.

If a congregation made cuts to its budget, it most likely reduced funds for staffing, brick-and-mortar projects, building maintenance, and internal programs.

Two-thirds of congregations offer congregants some type of electronic giving, allowing for “more consistent revenue than do traditional methods such as offerings during services,” the study says.

Over four in 10 responding congregations receive direct deposits from congregations, while three in 10 receive checks or transfers from congregants’ online bank accounts, and about 10 percent receive contributions through their website.

Seventy-two percent run an annual stewardship or pledge campaign, while 53 percent have an endowment.

And 36 percent offer specific courses, workshops, classes or seminars on personal finance or charitable giving.

Most leaders from responding congregations are discussing or preaching roughly the same amount or less on the importance of giving, both inside the congregation and to outside groups, than they were before the recession, the study says.

Evangelical Protestant congregations are more likely to offer financial or charitable giving courses that are Mainline Protestant, Catholic or Jewish denominations, or those classified as “other.”

And congregations attended by people with an average age of 65 or older are less likely to offer financial or charitable giving courses than congregations attended by people with the youngest average age.

Among congregations responding to the study, roughly two-thirds are Mainline Protestant, a fourth are Evangelical Protestant, and the remainder represent other Christian denominations such as those that are historically black or Catholic, as well as those that are Jewish or “other,” including unaffiliated congregations.

Over 60 percent of respondents are clergy.

In addition to the Lake Institute at Indiana University, partners in the study were the Alban Institute, National Association of Church Business Administration, Indianapolis Center for Congregations, and Maximum Generosity.

— Todd Cohen

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