Awakened to Abundance
“Did my donation matter?”
The first time I heard this question, it startled me. The second time, this question caused me to pause. After the third time, I started to dig deeper.
How could a donor that once felt so compelled to financially support a nonprofit organization now question if their donation even mattered? I had to know where this question was rooted, how it was evolving, and ultimately how it would impact both the donor and nonprofit organization. After seven years of working with thousands of nonprofit organizations, I am beginning to better understand how this simple question has had a massive impact on the mission of nonprofit organizations.
The root of this question is humanity’s fundamental need to give.
The root of this question is humanity’s fundamental need to give. Our human flourishing is tied directly with our ability to experience purpose, and that is why giving is a part of experiencing the abundant life Jesus brings. In fact, without the ability to give, this abundance may never be fully experienced.
There is a story in chapter 19 of the book of Matthew about a young man seeking an answer from Jesus to this very question. “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Matt 19:20-22)
Jesus’ radical challenge was in response to someone who had lived a life of accumulating things in the hope of finding the abundant life. The young man had stockpiled so much that it required this radical over-compensation of giving everything away to clear a path towards abundance. Not only in this story, but throughout the Bible we find that when Jesus talked about abundance it was tied to the practice of giving and sacrifice.
Giving USA reports that over the past 40 years, individual giving in the United States has remained almost flat at approximately 2% of disposable personal household income. On a broader scale, when we measure giving from all sources against the total value of all goods produced and services provided in the United States during a given year (our Gross Domestic Product), we still remain at approximately 2% over the past 40 years.
These trends point to not only an individual shift, but also to a larger cultural shift of financial surplus that does not directly translate into increased giving. In the United States our tendency seems to be that the more we earn the more we keep, or, said another way, the more we have the more we stockpile. It is true, we are a generous country; however, our generosity seems to have found a comfortable resting point.
We see these trends perpetuated even in charitable giving. While overall giving continues to grow at a healthy rate (according to Giving USA), giving to Donor Advised Funds (special accounts that allow donors to make charitable contributions, receive an immediate tax deduction and then recommend grants from the fund over time) are growing at an even faster rate (according to National Philanthropic Trust).
While this may appear like a benefit to nonprofits, distributions from Donor Advised Funds are not keeping track with deposits. This causes an incredible amount of stockpiling of charitable assets. Granted, at some point these funds will be used for charitable purposes; however, currently the personal benefit far outpaces the public benefit. While Donor Advised Funds provide benefit, we must be careful that the heart of giving is not being eroded away in the name of short-term personal tax benefits.
While giving to religious organizations continues to be the largest share of charitable giving in the United States that share of total giving has steadily fallen from 53% of all giving in 1978 to 32% of all giving in 2017 (source: Giving USA). This steady decline in giving is cause for concern especially as the era of protestant megachurches has required more and more resources for buildings, congregational programs, and staff. However, a 2015 megachurch report by Scott Thumma, Ph.D. and Warren Bird, Ph.D. found that within megachurches with a high emphasis on missions, per capita financial giving increased compared to those that did not place on emphasis on missions.
An abundance-oriented life would actively seek opportunities to give in ways that work toward the restoration and renewal of all things.
These cultural trends may subtly be drawing our hearts away from discovering more abundance through more giving. In fact, as we dig into motivations for giving, Rene Bekkers and Pamala Wiepking published a 2016 paper that identified the key factors that drive giving in today’s culture. They found that for more than 85 percent of charitable donations, “people gave because someone asked them to.” While this may not sound like a bad thing, it points to a more passive response to giving instead of proactive giving.
An abundance-oriented life would actively seek opportunities to give in ways that work toward the restoration and renewal of all things. Our culture’s understanding of finding abundance through giving seems to have slowly fallen asleep.
For many years, fundraising in the nonprofit sector has largely failed to help donors connect giving and abundance. Nonprofit organizations must recognize their role in communicating this idea of kingdom abundance, especially in how they care for the donors to their organizations. The Bloomerang Nonprofit Donor Loyalty Primer reports that 53% of donors leave an organization because of the charity’s lack of communication. At the same time, 56% of donors say they are most likely to give repeatedly to an organization if they receive regular communication about the organization’s work and the impact that their donation is making.
Starting to care for your donors does not have to be difficult, but it does need to be intentional. As nonprofit organizations restructure their donor management practices to focus on caring for their donors, as they care for program beneficiaries, it will lead not only to fundraising results, but also to waking our culture to a life of abundance.
As leaders within communities of faith, we must actively organize our personal lives and organizations to embrace, teach, and celebrate a life of abundance focused on giving and not stockpiling.
We must recognize that every person has the capacity to give in ways infinitely larger than what is in their bank account. We can stop creating donor management philosophies based on what someone has done in the past, and instead focus on what they could do. This is the type of giving that will turn stockpiles into dust. By letting donors once again find abundance in the act of giving, faith leaders and nonprofits can help reawaken the sleeping giant of giving in our culture. However, it is going to require some radical changes.
The good news is that radical change makers are already at work. The Church Project in Houston, Texas began as a small community of house churches actively seeking to give away one-half of all monies that are tithed. The Fly Fishing Collaborative in Portland, Oregon is active in working with other nonprofits to fund and support the other nonprofit’s initiatives. Authors and influencers are creating Giving Circles like Legacy Collective based in Austin, Texas to organize giving communities to pool resources before there is a need in order to give more strategically. Mercy House Global is using their platform to support more than 60 other nonprofits that are creating economic opportunities all around the world for women who are victims of violence. These are just a few examples of change makers who are using their sphere of influence to create a culture of giving for the abundance of all. The best news is that we can join them.
Written into the heart of every human being is the need to give. We can no longer allow the practice of giving to be disconnected from the fulfillment of abundance. When that happens donors begin to ask about the meaning and purpose of exchanging their financial resources for something less than abundance. Our culture begins to unknowingly redefine generosity and ceases to create pathways for everyone to experience the abundance. Our personal lives can become filled with excess while slowly being drained of the joy we seek. Over decades and generations, the act of giving becomes a responsive transaction in exchange for a temporary feeling of good or for the relief of guilt.
The abundance of the kingdom is near. It is real, and it satisfies. Let us awaken our culture’s sleeping capacity to give while we lead new generations in reimagining how giving can draw us towards the abundance of Christ.
Mike Rusch is CEO at Pure Charity, an organization dedicated to building world class technology and fundraising solutions for nonprofit organizations working to solve some of the world’s greatest problems. Prior to Pure Charity, Mike worked for Nickelodeon, The Walt Disney Company, Hershey Foods, served in the United States Marine Corps, and is a graduate of the University of Arkansas College of Engineering (Computer Science and Computer Engineering).