Navigating Tempests of Change
Most of us have at times quoted or even misquoted popular sayings about change, such as, “Change is inevitable” or “History repeats itself.”
"Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests."
However, let us consider a couple of quotes on change appropriate for our moment. These include, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional,” by John C. Maxwell. Also, “The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests,” offers ancient perspective from the Greek stoic philosopher, Epictetus.
Navigating Storms of Change
So, how have we surmounted the storms and tempests of our day? Given the turbulent and often frightful events of the COVID pandemic and its fallout, it is helpful to consider what changed for nonprofits and the impact of these changes on organizations, particularly those that are faith-based.
According to Giving USA, the highly respected research project that provides a yearly look at philanthropy in the United States, giving to religion is down.
Giving to religion grew by 5.2% between 2021 and 2022, with an estimated $143.57 billion in contributions. Inflation-adjusted giving to the religion subsector declined by 2.6 percent. Giving by individuals, which obviously is the greatest source of income for our churches and congregations, was down over 6% in 2022.
According to a July 29, 2023 article by Jake Meador in The Atlantic, “Forty million Americans have stopped attending church in the past 25 years. That’s something like 12 percent of the population, and it represents the largest concentrated change in church attendance in American history.”
It is reasonable to assume that church attendance has a significant impact on giving, so how does this change affect the income we need for our programs and causes? Congregations should carefully review attendance figures and consider how to improve them. It is a good time to evaluate our programs, their mission and meaning.
As the Atlantic article concludes, “This change is also bad news for America as a whole: Participation in a religious community generally correlates with better health outcomes and longer life, higher financial generosity and more stable families …”
An accepted principle of sustainable and credible fundraising is that proximity to an organization is tantamount to loyalty in giving.
The distancing during COVID no doubt had some impact on giving to religion.
The distancing during COVID no doubt had some impact on giving to religion. Face-to-face acquaintance and interaction are beneficial in securing funds needed for faith-based organizations to carry out their missions.
During the COVID period, frequently one could hear a friend or relative say, “Oh, church! I’ll tune in if I feel like it.” Of course, churches maintained much loyalty in attendance via the use of social media, but social media can’t take the place of face-to-face interaction. Today, congregations should take a careful look at current attendance figures, and determine what it would take to improve them.
How people donate is changing.
A Sept. 15, 2020 article by Alicia Adamczyk in Your Money Mindset is entitled, “Americans are generous in their charitable giving during COVID-19, but how they donate changed.” Often people wanted to give directly to the needy, as exhibited by long food lines at churches or by helping a family on the street asking for handouts. How people donate is changing, with many viewing direct giving as more valuable as it eliminates organizational overhead and expenses.
Faith-based organizations need to review how they interact with their communities and how their members make a difference and where. They must also ensure transparency and accountability for funds entrusted to their organizations, showing credible results for the use of those funds.
Organizations must pursue ethical, professional and successful fundraising.
It is also important now to revisit tried-and-true fundamental practices of ethical, professional and successful fundraising, as taught by the Indiana University School of Philanthropy and The Fund Raising School, as well as credible organizations or consulting groups. These principles must be adapted to the organization and its circumstances.
The COVID period was devastating to many, disillusioning to some, and disastrous in many ways. However, out of this challenging era, which still lingers in some ways, we can capitalize on trends and changes while positively facing what comes next.
Thoughtful analysis coupled with a prayerful attitude can accomplish much. Echoing a phrase often attributed to Albert Einstein, “Out of adversity comes opportunity.”
This is a good time for organizational and fundraising evaluation and planning. We can embrace this moment to change, develop our strengths, and re-create our organizations, our missions and our fundraising practices.
Dr. Lilya Wagner is a senior consultant at Lighthouse Counsel. A recipient of the Henry A. Rosso Medal for Lifetime Achievement in Ethical Fund Raising, she was involved in curriculum, training and project management at the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and previously oversaw fundraising at Union College and Counterpart International.
Learn more about Outcomes magazine. (Christian Leadership Alliance offers excellent training in resource development for Christian nonprofits through its annual Outcomes Conference, and online Outcomes Academy.)