Survey: 7 in 10 Evangelical Ministries Report Little, No Loss in Donations

Though a large portion of Americans are cutting back on donations to non-profits amid tough economic conditions, evangelical parachurch ministries have been among those least affected by the cuts, according to a new survey.

Least affected negatively, that is.

According to the survey by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), most evangelical parachurch ministries exceeded, met or came very close to their 2008 fourth-quarter contributions goals.

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"Many of the parachurch ministries we surveyed reported small donations of $10 to $100 were relatively unaffected, and in some cases, donations in this category increased," reported Dan Busby, acting president of the Christian accreditation agency. "In fact, some of our members had the strongest fourth quarter they've had in years and ended the year debt-free."

In a survey of ECFA members, 72 percent of responding organizations reportedly exceeded, met or came within 10 percent of their goals. The remaining 28 percent said they were more than 10 percent below their goals.

Though still a significantly large percentage, the latter figure is expected to be much lower than what secular nonprofits will likely report given that a survey conducted by Wilson Research Strategies for Dunham+Company last month found more religious Americans (those who attend church most frequently) sustaining their giving at a higher rate than more secular Americans.

While 40 percent of Americans who said they seldom or never attend church reported that hard times had caused them to reduce charitable donations, 36 percent of frequent churchgoers said they were forced to reduce charitable donations. Furthermore, only 19 percent of frequent churchgoers admitted to having stopped their charitable giving altogether, while 27 percent of Americans who seldom or never attend church said they did the same.

Some ministries that took part in the EFCA survey attributed steady or increased contributions to increased prayer and widespread humanitarian interest in supporting organizations that help the poor and disadvantaged.

When asked what specific measures were taken to support fund-raising during the downturn, 53 percent said they increased one-on-one contact with key donors. More than 30 percent reported changing their messaging to donors and developing materials on how their organization is responding to the changing economy.

Although most ministries exceeded, met or came close to fourth-quarter 2008 goals, many still have concerns about how the ongoing economic crisis may affect 2009 contributions.

To navigate through the economic downturn and recoup or minimizes losses, some ministries have implemented strategies to keep operating costs and spending down.

Forty-one percent reported having frozen or delayed salary increases, while 38 percent have frozen or reduced hiring. Fifty-three percent cut travel and conference expenses, while 30 percent cut or delayed capital projects. Twenty-two percent have partnered with other organizations and businesses for additional support and to share resources.

Other less common strategies reported included: renegotiating office leases, asking staff members to raise support for specific projects, borrowing money from restricted funds or considering a new loan.

"Most ECFA member ministries expect 2009 to be more challenging, primarily because major donors who made gifts in 2008 have expressed they may not be able to renew their financial commitments because of the economy," said Busby.

According to the survey by Wilson Research Strategies, however, 56 percent of Americans in general say they plan to give the same amount to charities in 2009, with 14 percent saying they intend to give more and 27 percent saying they intend to reduce giving.

Meanwhile, among those who attend religious services more than once a week, 60 percent say they intend to give the same amount in 2009, 21 percent say they intend to give more, and 17 percent say they plan to reduce their giving.

The survey was, however, conducted Jan. 8-11, prior to the inauguration of President Obama, who has in recent weeks been describing the U.S. economy in nearly apocalyptic terms.

Whatever happens, Busby expects ministries to pull through as there is more at stake for them than the businesses of the world.

"[F]or leadership and staff members, this is ministry, not a job," he said. "Despite challenges, most remain committed to making positive operational and structural decisions, including developing contingency plans, which will enable them to continue to carry out God's purpose despite limited resources."

More than 300 parachurch ministries participated in the survey by ECFA, which provides accreditation to leading Christian nonprofit organizations. Since 1979, the ECFA has overseen its members financial accountability, fund-raising and board governance.

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