IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy

David P. King, Ph.D., Karen Lake Buttrey Director of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving

Almost every day, our Lake Institute team finds itself asked to answer questions about trends in giving to congregations:  How many congregations conduct annual stewardship campaigns? How many members are likely to pledge? What percentage of giving comes through weekly offerings versus online? How does debt, endowments, or capital campaigns affect annual giving?

These questions are essential to the over 350,000 congregations across the country. We know that giving to religion (defined narrowly to include congregations, denominations, and missionary societies) makes up the largest percentage of charitable giving in the United States (31% in 2017). But we also know that these giving trends are evolving dramatically as individual religious affiliation and attendance patterns are changing while religious institutions are also redefining their own purposes and approaches to engaging their communities.

The need to address these pressing issues is clear, but it is often hard to know where to start because we lack the information we need. While other nonprofits file annual 990 forms with the IRS that give us quite a lot of insight into their fundraising practices, budgets, and expenditures, congregations are not required to report and therefore few do. We may know less about how congregations receive, manage, and spend money than any other nonprofit sector. And without the knowledge establishing a baseline, providing context, and highlighting best practices, it becomes difficult for religious leaders to know where to start.

To meet this need for information, Dr. King at Lake Institute, along with Dr. Brad Fulton of  Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs and Dr. Chris Munn recently joining us as postdoctoral fellow, have spent the last year conducting the largest nationally representative survey focused on congregational finances in a generation. The National Study of Congregations’ Economic Practices (NSCEP) has completed surveys from over 1140 congregations across the United States. These congregations represent all 50 states and a full diversity of denominations and faith traditions. They have reported memberships from 10 to 12,000. Many are staffed by one bi-vocational pastor while others employ dozens of full-time ministry staff. Some were established well before the U.S. became a country. Others were started last year. They reported budgets from $6,000 to $27,000,000.

How do congregations receive, manage, and spend resources?

We are eager to dig into this data and share with you what we have learned. Not only will we be able to share how congregations receive, manage, and spend resources, but we will also be able to address how laity and clergy address the taboo topic of faith and money. How often does the topic come up in sermons, religious education, or community outreach? How confident do clergy feel in addressing these questions in their own lives and with those that have been entrusted to their care? More than analyzing data and trends, our study will also seek to address the theological, cultural, and practical orientations toward money.

Throughout the next six months, we will be analyzing the results of our initial survey. We hope you might find us at a variety of venues sharing our initial findings from the NSCEP project. With our Episcopalian friends, we will be offering initial results at the Consortium of Endowed Episcopalian Parishesmeeting in February. We will offer extended findings with our partner, Ecumenical Stewardship Centerat their Generosity Transformed conferencein April/May. And we will be sharing with congregational leaders at The Church Networkgathering in July. Alongside these initial in person gatherings, we will make sure to alert our Insightsreadersto our finding reports. Stay tuned for an executive report that we will make readily available at our websitein early summer. Of course, if you are a congregational or faith-based nonprofit leader, we will be implementing these findings into our Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraisingcourses later in 2019, and we would invite you to register so that you might situate your own organization alongside our national data.

We are excited about what we have been learning about congregations’ economic practices and are eager to share these findings with you. Please feel free to pass this on to others, sign up for Insights, or follow us on Facebookor Twitter to make sure you receive notifications of the latest findings from our study. Of course, we are always eager to hear from you what questions you have for us. What would you like to know?