Americans are giving more to charity but the church is increasingly getting less of the goodwill from their pockets. How much less? At least $1 billion worth of it, says the Atlas of Giving, and that's only what's predicted for this year alone.
Despite positive growth in overall charitable donations from Americans in the last three years, religious organizations can expect more than $1 billion less in giving this year than they collected in 2012, according to a report released this month by the Atlas of Giving.
Recognized as the most precise measure of charitable giving in the United States and accounting for the entire giving economy, the Atlas of Giving notes in its 2012 report that while religion remains the largest giving sector in America, its share of the pie will decline from 36 percent to 35 percent this year despite overall increases in charitable giving.
Americans gave $345.93 billion in charitable donations in 2011. In 2012, overall charitable donations increased by 6.7 percent to just over $369 billion. This year, charitable giving, largely fueled by individuals, is expected to increase 1.6 percent to $375.13 billion, according to the report.
Giving to religious organizations, however, showed little growth in 2012, and it is the only one out of eight giving sectors tracked in the report that forecasts a decline for 2013. The other giving sectors – education, human/disaster services, health, arts, international, nature/environment and society benefit – are all expected to post increases. Donations to the nature/environment and human/disaster services sectors are projected to see the greatest increase in charitable giving in 2013, continuing a trend from 2012.
Tom Hampson, director of constituent engagement at Church World Service, said although his organization projected meeting its fundraising goal for 2013, they are currently weathering a decline in church giving. "We are seeing a decline in congregation giving for us," he said in a telephone interview with The Christian Post on Monday. "While the recession seems to be receding, the experience of lots of non-profits is still a daunting environment."
While he was unsure about the cause of the decline in giving to the religious sector and cited several factors that could have resulted in the decline, he said, "if people are feeling insecure about their employment, certainly they'll be less likely to give."
Maj. Ron Busroe of The Salvation Army, however, had a more nuanced response to the data. In an interview with CP, Busroe said in the last five years The Salvation Army has enjoyed an increase in giving every year. Last year, however, they posted the smallest increase of the period. And while he acknowledged that significant election spending played a role in the crimped giving, he said the drop in giving was an indication of a more telling issue in the church.
"We are observing more and more people identifying themselves as 'no religion' so consequently, if they have no religion then they are not going to give to the church, the synagogue or the temple. That group of people is going to start having some impact on charitable giving," said Busroe.
The younger generation, he said, are now more interested in giving to causes rather than the church as an institution and "organizations that can clearly articulate what that dollar will do, those are the kinds of things that will draw giving."
He noted that people gave to The Salvation Army not simply because it is a faith-based organization but because it provides services that act as a social safety net for many individuals. "It's not easy for the church to do but we all have to be able to say this is the value we bring to society and communicate that to our constituents. The younger people are not going to give just because our parents and grand-parents did," he said.