Majority of US Evangelicals say they favor secular charities, study finds

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For many Evangelical Christians in the United States, there is a gap between what they say and how they give charitably, researchers say.

According to findings in a study released Thursday, more than half of Evangelical Christians in the U.S. prefer to support secular charities rather than faith-based ministries or other organizations.

Infinity Concepts and Grey Matter Research asked over 1,000 Evangelical Protestants in the U.S. to name their favorite charity or ministry to support. The findings, released in the report The Favorite Charity: Evangelical Giving Priorities, were a bit unexpected.

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While the vast majority of Evangelicals, 84%, said they would rather support Christian organizations than non-Christian ones, only 46% of Evangelical donors actually named a faith-based organization as their favorite to support. 

The remaining 54% of respondents named a secular organization as their favorites.

Based on the study's results, Infinity Concepts founder Mark Dreistadt said he's concerned that Evangelicals prioritize secular organizations over faith-based groups. 

“Certainly, Evangelicals can and should be concerned about things such as adult literacy, homelessness or pollution,” Dreistadt said in a statement. “But it is noteworthy that so many are making secular organizations their very top priority, especially when there are solid Christian organizations doing work similar to some of these secular favorites.”

Of those who said they prefer supporting Christian organizations, more than half said they would support “organizations that have their Christian faith as a major part of the work they do,” compared with 32% who prefer to support “organizations that have a Christian background or perspective but are not necessarily conducting specifically Christian work.”

The study also found that Christians who give are relatively monolithic in the organizations to which they give. In total, 19 different brands collectively represent the favorite organization for 53% of Evangelical donors.

Of those brands, the five most popular — St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, The Salvation Army, American Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse and UNICEF — were named the favorites of 34% of all Evangelical donors.

Evangelical donors also closely mirror American donors in general regarding which causes they favor, with specific diseases such as cancer or diabetes (19%) and international relief and development (18%) being the most popular among Evangelicals, the study found.

Larger organizations also tend to draw more Evangelical donors. Just 12% of Evangelical donors named a favorite organization with revenues under $10 million.

According to the study, the average total IRS Form 990 annual revenues of the organizations favored by Evangelicals is $1.07 billion.

Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, said the research indicates today’s ministry leaders and strategists may need to readjust their fundraising plans.

“In reality, Evangelical donors are very similar to other donors,” said Sellers. “Many ministry leaders need to broaden their strategic thinking and understand how entirely secular organizations have made such broad inroads into the Evangelical population. The competition for the donor dollar is much broader and stronger than some leaders recognize.”

The study mirrored similar findings from Grey Matter Research conducted last year. While most Evangelicals say tithing, giving 10% of one's income to the Church, is a biblical commandment, only an estimated 13% engage in regular giving at church. In comparison, half give away less than 1% of their income annually.

The study, The Generosity Factor: Evangelicals and Giving, found that the average Evangelical donated on average $2,545 total over the preceding 12 months — $1,923 to the Church and $622 to charity. Evangelicals gave a median of $340 to the Church and $50 to charity, totaling $390.

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