Climate Change–Fundraising in Faith Communities


Increasingly, the effects of environmental climate change are felt in North America and around the world.  The intensity of storms, drought, and temperature are having a greater impact on our daily lives and crisis planning is no longer an afterthought in regions hardest hit.

Similarly, there has been steady climate change in many denominations and faith-based organizations in North America, particularly with regard to giving and fundraising. According to the Giving USA 2013 report released in June, overall giving to religion was down last year by nearly two percent (-1.9%) after a modest post-recession increase in 2012. This does not bode well, since overall charitable giving has rebounded by another three percent (3% adjusted for inflation) to pre-recession levels, with healthy increases in several categories.

Faith Community leaders–this notable drop in giving to religion should be a matter of great interest and concern to you.

For decades, religion received the largest share of charitable giving in the United States, and still does, but to a shrinking degree. This correlates with the decline in membership and attendance in Mainline Christian Churches. However, many faith communities report that donors are increasing the amount of their monetary gifts. There are simply fewer donors in their flocks.

Here is what we know about the other climatic changes affecting fundraising and things faith communities can do about them:

  • Baby Boomers have hit middle age. They are not as active in faith communities as their parents had been, tend to view institutions and authority with suspicion. However, they generously invest their volunteer energy and charitable dollars in social justice causes and community organizations that improve people’s lives and circumstances.

Studies indicate the more people are actively engaged in meaningful ways, the more they give to those organizations. Find ways to connect with this generation’s interests by encouraging voluntarism, community-building, high quality worship and programs. This means clarifying a compelling vision that has appeal for seekers as well as the faithful. It is essential to ensure top notch membership practices and faith development programs are in place.

  • Young adults have eclectic religious and spiritual interests, many referring to themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” and choosing to remain unaffiliated with religious institutions. They like the freedom to explore a variety of belief
    smart phone and moneysystems and spiritual practices and they steer away from intolerant attitudes and oppressive dogma. As a group, young adults think globally, supporting international causes that make a tangible difference in people’s lives. They are actively engaged in social networking and prefer using internet technology when making their gifts.

This represents our biggest opportunity for growth and giving in faith communities.  Faith  communities could grow and prosper if they offered what generational surveys and research tell us people are seeking and will invest their time and resources to actively support. It is important to remember that relationships are central to effective fundraising and stewardship, so always take time to get to know people and what is important to them as individuals and families.

  • Wealth is moving from generation to generation—BIG TIME. This represents over $40 Trillion passing to Baby Boomers from their parents. This makes planned giving opportunities much more timely and relevant to aging Baby Boomers.

There is no time to lose for congregations and faith-based organizations to establish and market planned giving programs! To begin with, you should have clear and comprehensive gift acceptance policies in place, as well as trusted financial advisors and legal counsel to assist you in the proper handling of gifts. Most denominations and community foundations have cost-saving planned giving services and information to help organizations and donors understand their options.

  • Today’s donors expect financial accountability, clear and accurate reporting for how their donations are used, and appropriate recognition of their gifts. There are myriad books, online resources, consultation and training available for current best practices. (Some great resources are listed below.) Get your eyes and hands on them and use them!

There is no lack of information about best practices in fundraising and no excuse for ignorance in this realm of faith community finance. Ask for help or consultation from a qualified professional if you don’t know where to begin.

We can learn new ways to adapt to the forces of change. We can equip ourselves to be better prepared for fundraising challenges by adopting current best practices before they arise. 

Laurel 2012

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Laurel Amabile, CFRE | Giving Speaks Consulting

Recommended resources:

Developing Fundraising Policies and Procedures. Barbara L. Ciconte, CFRE. Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Giving USA Reports.

Religion Among the Millennials. Pew Research Center. 2010.

Leave a Legacy.  A toolkit compiled by Marion V. Grimes & Susan T. Siwiec, APR. Sponsored by The Western New York Planned Giving Consortium, Inc.  

Planned Giving for Small Nonprofits. Ronald R. Jordan & Katelyn L. Quynn. 2002. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Planned Giving Resources for Unitarian Universalist congregations can be found at the Unitarian Universalist Association: and UU Umbrella Giving opportunities: