“Giving USA”, the definitive publication on charitable giving, has recently come out with their 2004 issue which has the giving numbers for 2003. The results are not very good, but somewhat expected. For 2003 Americans gave away 240.72 billion dollars which is an increase of 0.6% when adjusted for inflation. This is on par with the results of 2002 and a bit above the results of 2001. Americans have not reached or exceeded the high water mark of giving that was done in 2000.

For all practical purposes charitable giving has been flat for the last three years. This was a bit disappointing in a year in which the Standard and Poor’s Index rose by 26.4%. Gifts to religion amounted to 36% of the total and were once again the largest recipient of charitable dollars. It is, however, the third year in a row that gifts to religion have been below 40%. Just twenty years ago, gifts to religion amounted to nearly 60% of all charitable giving.

The continued erosion of religious giving as a piece of the pie continues. Many groups have documented the decline in giving to the institutional church, and to missions giving in particular. The mainline churches have all experienced significant layoffs and program cancellations at the national and international level. A recent study by Empty Tomb Inc. now shows that this disease has struck the Southern Baptist Church as well. Southern Baptist giving per member is down to 2% and support of the Cooperative Program has dropped from an average of 10.5% per church to 7.4% today.

An interesting side note to this is a Lutheran study that showed churches that are declining have very low per member mission giving whereas those that are growing show above average missional giving. Effects of Political Giving on Charities and Churches Many persons are concerned that money to political parties is being siphoned away from charities and churches. All of us read about the millions being raised by President Bush and Senator Kerry and what it takes to run for the Senate and House. Where does it all come from? Most charities and churches will feel little effect from giving to politics.

It is expected that Americans will give away approximately 1 billion dollars to the political parties in 2004. When you compare that to the 240 billion given to charity, political giving is but a drop in the bucket. The Chronicle on Philanthropy notes that a small number of charities will feel the effect. These are ones that are most tied to far left or far right causes. Some environmental groups may suffer because donors think it is more important this year to back a candidate who shares their environmental view rather than just support the charity.

Churches are the last ones who would feel the effect of the political season, just as they are the last charity to suffer during recessions and economic downturns.