In the aftermath of the Asian tsunami, Americans generously donated money to relief groups around the world. But it appears Americans don’t need a major disaster to give money. Annually, Americans donate $183 billion, with nearly half of that amount going to faith-based organizations.
Money going to faith-based organizations, such as churches, mosques, the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities, not only can help provide needed social services to communities, but it can also bring a financial benefit to donors, says a noted community development expert at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Planned giving to faith-based organizations such as congregations can help donors increase financial responsibility and build a stronger financial future,” says Stephanie Boddie, Ph.D., assistant professor of social work in the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University.
“People who donate money on a regular basis take a closer look at where their money is going,” adds Boddie. “They are able to figure out and set aside the money they can donate on a weekly or monthly basis. This can lead to more financial responsibility in the areas of debt repayment and asset building.”
Planned-giving practices such as tithing help congregation members focus on their spending and saving habits because they pay more attention to how they use the rest of their money, explains Boddie.
“Many people who tithe say tithing is not only about money,” says Boddie, author of “Way to Give: Tithing Principles and Practices Promoting Asset Building,” a study funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. “The tithing practice does more than raise funds; it confronts the consumer-oriented culture. It challenges attitudes and feelings toward God, finances, possessions, families, friends, the poor, the future and life in general.”
And, Boddie found in her study, church members have improved their financial situations through planned-giving programs. In the study, church members describe their experiences. “I started tithing 20 years ago and I have never been broke,” said a church member. “I may only have two or three dollars at the end of the month, but I am never without.”
Another church member added that the blessings are not always monetary — he has more opportunities to serve others and his faith in God has dramatically increased.
Increase in tithing
Giving to a congregation also tends to have an impact on the surrounding community.
“Increased appeals and teaching about tithing or planned giving may lead congregation members to give more to other community organizations,” Boddie says. “The spill over of benefits for the community may also be related to the types of services provided by the congregation. The kinds of programs likely to have the greatest benefit for local communities are asset-based programs that include homeownership programs, small business programs, credit unions, community business development and tax preparation services.”
Some clergy suggest that tithing is increasing. Call it renewed faith in giving, a rise in spirituality and generosity, a return to the traditions of the faith, a desire to help the “least of these,” or a rational economic motive such as a tax break.
“In all likelihood, congregations that are experiencing an increase in tithing also have a plan to or already do incorporate topics of giving, tithing and financial responsibility in sermons, Bible study or Sunday school,” she says.
Giving to faith-based organizations is becoming more important because as an increasing number of people are turning to social services for help, the government is looking to churches to be a partner in delivering social programs.
“Congregations are expected to use their financial resources to help hold together the unraveling national safety net,” says Boddie.
“We should learn from those congregations that are moving beyond traditional programs such as charity dinners, food pantries and church construction fund drives and are developing a system of focused giving and strategic partnerships with banks, businesses, foundations and local organizations to help their members save money and build assets,” adds Boddie.
The financial condition of the congregation depends on the financial status and giving practices of its members. For example, congregations with members who give regularly can potentially establish congregational resources beyond what is needed to cover the cost of operations. These additional funds can be used to build the infrastructure of the congregation. A congregation with staff, adequate facilities, equipment and surplus revenue is then in a position to provide formal social and community services such as credit counseling and job training, says Boddie.
“These formal services not only fill the social services gap, but they also help local residents and the community to become self-sustaining and less reliant on government aid,” adds Boddie.
Clergy are becoming more involved in encouraging responsible giving and financial stability. In addition to offering financial counseling programs, clergy are helping change the way people think about money and spending.
“One pastor found that her members did not know the difference between the stuff that filled their homes and gained no value and the assets that would increase in value over time,” says Boddie.
“From the latest fashions and sneakers to the finest furniture and cars, this pastor began highlighting the fact that members were unable to discriminate between a wise purchase and a poor sale,” says Boddie. “The church now offers workshops to address the disconnect that happens between giving to God and spending and investing what God provides.”
Boddie notes that congregations that cultivate giving hearts as well as more educated financial managers are building a generation of leaders that will have the compassion and financial capacity to go beyond addressing global poverty to becoming a part of the solution to the wealth disparity that is ever increasing in both developed and developing countries.