For all the bad rap we Americans get for self-centered consumerism, it’s interesting to note this surprising truth… we’re actually pretty generous.
According to the Giving USA 2017 report on philanthropy, American individuals, estates, foundations and corporations contributed an estimated $390.05 billion to U.S. charities in 2016, a four percent increase over 2015. Total giving rose 2.7 percent, and giving to all nine categories of recipient organizations grew, making 2016 just the sixth time in the past 40 years that this has occurred.
“This report tells us that Americans remained generous in 2016, despite it being a year punctuated by economic and political uncertainty,” said Aggie Sweeney, CFRE, chair of the Giving USA Foundation and senior counsel at Campbell & Company. “We saw growth in every major sector, indicating the resilience of philanthropy and diverse motivations of donors.”
And in this landscape of generosity, Christian philanthropists and volunteers continue to stand out among their peers. Cheryl K. Chumley, online opinion editor for The Washington Times, reflected on recent hurricane response in a Sept. 12, 2017 analysis/opinion article noting that Christians beat out FEMA in terms of providing humanitarian aid.
“When disaster strikes, it’s Americans — specifically, Americans of faith — who lend the quickest hands, who provide the most assistance,” said Chumley. “Before Big Government, there was the citizenry. People who put God first, people who are committed to serving Jesus, people who are driven by a moral compass that comes from above, are the real doers and shakers and movers.”
Of course, not all giving is created equal. Far too often, well-intentioned donors short-change their potential impact through misguided, ineffective, or perhaps even harmful acts of generosity.
Sometimes the missteps are obvious, such as when good-hearted individuals give narrowly designated funds or inappropriate resources that can’t actually be used to fill an organization’s needs.
“I’m working with a church council that’s struggling with how to handle a $60,000 bequest, designated for the church’s kitchen,” says Rick Droog, executive director of the Siouxland Deacons Conference. “The council is really scratching their heads, not knowing whether they should use the funds to buy supplies, purchase equipment or renovate the facilities – none of which are really needed right now. They want to honor the donor’s wishes, but they’re struggling to find ways to use her gift in a manner that advances their vision and mission.”
“What if we went beyond talking about why to give, also educating supporters on how?”
Other times, donors truncate their potential impact by forfeiting tax-wise charitable giving options. “We routinely meet with individuals who wish to make substantial charitable gifts to kingdom causes,” explains Jim Bakke, executive director of Barnabas Foundation. “Sometimes donors want to cut large checks to ministries after they’ve already sold real estate or stock that they’ve acquired over the years. Had they gifted the assets directly instead, they’d have received the same charitable deduction plus eliminated their tax bill, up to 30 percent of the sale.”
For example, Bakke says he recently met with an individual who planned to sell and donate the proceeds from stock valued at $300,000. “Thankfully, he talked with us first,” says Bakke. “By gifting the stocks directly, he saved more than $75,000 in taxes.”
Six Tips for Savvy Generosity
Perhaps proclaiming the virtues of generosity is not enough. There’s little doubt our fellow citizens, and especially Christ followers, are already generous at heart. The real question is if their generosity is resulting in maximum impact.
What if we took donor conversations one step further? What if we went beyond talking about why to give, also educating supporters on how?
Here are six helpful guidelines to help your donors give more effectively to the ministries close to their hearts.
- Give to established, credible organizations that will use donations appropriately.
Educate your donors on the importance of giving only to ministries that will put their donations to good use. Show the credibility of your own ministry by demonstrating the impact of donor gifts, and by making your financial documents easily accessible.
- Trust ministries to understand where gifts can be put to greatest use.
While donating physical items or designating cash gifts may fulfill a donor’s desire to do something “tangible” in the short-term, these gifts often don’t allow much flexibility when needs and opportunities change. Help your donors understand the diversity of needs that your ministry helps fill, and encourage them to trust those on the frontlines to know how their financial support can do the most good.
- Turn non-cash assets into gifts.
Many donors are conditioned to reach for their checkbooks, but only 10 percent of a person’s giving potential is found their wallet or bank account; the rest is in non-cash assets. Donors may be able to give much larger gifts – and take advantage of significant tax benefits – by giving assets, such as stocks, real estate, machinery or commodities. This is especially appealing for donors looking to liquidate appreciated assets.
- Give in a way that provides retirement income for life.
Some donors may be inclined to give more, but don’t because they worry if their retirement income will be enough to meet their family’s needs. Teach your donors the benefit of life income agreements, such as charitable gift annuities and charitable remainder trusts. Through these tax-wise giving options, donors can provide critical funding to the ministries they love, while still receiving ongoing, fixed income.
- Streamline and simplify giving through a donor-advised fund.
Donors who give to multiple ministries may be able to simplify their giving by setting up a donor-advised fund account. Donor-advised funds offer a simple means to give cash and/or appreciated assets into a single account, from which they can recommend grants to one or more ministries. This option also provides flexibility in terms of timing, since donors receive an immediate tax deduction at the time of the gift, but they can choose to wait until later to decide how best to distribute the funds.
- Include charitable giving in your will.
According to Giving USA, 2016 giving increased in all categories except one: bequests, which saw a drastic decline by 8 percent. This indicates donors still don’t fully appreciate or understand one of the most significant giving options available to them. By giving through their wills, donors are often able to give larger gifts than they ever could have managed during their lifetimes. They’re also able to model the importance of philanthropy to their loved ones and extend their impact on God’s kingdom for generations to come.
One common concern among ministry leaders is that by asking for bequest gifts, they’ll stifle the donor’s support for the here and now. In reality, lifetime giving levels for legacy donors usually increases rather than decreases. Their commitment to be “all in” benefits ministries both now and in the years to come.
Beyond Feeling Good
For the vast majority of Americans, and Christians in particular, generosity is a virtue that has been ingrained in us since childhood. Whether in the classroom or in Sunday School, we’ve grown up learning that “sharing is caring” and to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Consequently, when people see a need – and believe they have the means to do so – they give.
Our challenge, then, is to help individuals recognize all the various resources with which God has blessed them, and to help them steward and gift those assets as effectively as possible. We have the calling and the opportunity to help individuals and families go beyond feeling good about their generosity, to actually doing as much good as possible.
Individuals and faith-led ministries alike benefit as we educate others about the methods and benefits of savvy generosity. Together, we can have even greater impact in our world and for God’s kingdom.
Heather M. Day is director of marketing for Barnabas Foundation, where she provides marketing tools and messaging support to 200 member ministries so they can communicate more effectively with their donors about complex gifts and charitable planning for the benefit of God’s kingdom. Learn more at www.BarnabasFoundation.com.
Don’t miss the workshop on “Best Practices in Charitable Gift Annuity Administration” being co-led by Cindy Riemersma and Kurt Knoll of Barnabas Foundation at CLA’s The Outcomes Conference in Dallas, Texas, April 17 – 19, 2018. Learn more >>