Beyond World Vision or Compassion International, Where Are Evangelicals Giving?
What is your very top priority in how you spend your time?
What about the people in your life – what is your very top priority in who you try to spend time with? Or your top priority in how you spend your money, or which bills you pay first?
Priorities say a lot about us. What you prioritize can be a pretty clear indicator of what you value most.
Based on their giving priorities, the majority of evangelicals do not value faith-based charities and ministries most in their giving outside of church.
Grey Matter Research and Infinity Concepts partnered on research among evangelical Protestants. In our recent report, “The Favorite Charity: Evangelical Giving Priorities,” we asked evangelical donors to name the one ministry or charity other than their church that they prioritize above all others.
First, note that 42% of evangelical Protestants did not give a penny in the last year to any organization outside of their church (and 26% didn’t give anything to church). Those who did identified the one organization they would support financially if they could only give to one.
The names we got were all over the board (as might be expected, with well over a million organizations to choose from): Large Christian brands including Compassion International, World Vision, and K-LOVE Radio. Much smaller ministries such as Kokomo Rescue Mission, WYTJ Radio, and Upward Sports. Secular organizations such as Make-A-Wish, ASPCA, and Wounded Warrior Foundation.
Among all of these brands, 54% of evangelical donors have a number one giving priority that is not Christian.
When we combine this with the fact that 42% of evangelicals aren’t giving outside of church, this means only 27% of all evangelicals are giving money and put a Christian organization as their very top giving priority.
Of the 19 favorite brands of evangelical donors, ten are entirely secular. The top five include The Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse, but also UNICEF, American Red Cross, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
In our research, we learned a few other things about the giving priorities of evangelicals. We hear all the time how donors want to support organizations that spend very little on expenses such as overhead, administration, and fundraising (the “overhead ratio”). But the reality is that just 14% of evangelical donors have a favorite organization with an overhead ratio in the single digits. The average evangelical’s favorite organization spends 18.5% on overhead – a number which is identical to the favorite organizations of non-evangelical donors.
We also discovered that, like the typical American donor, evangelicals tend to favor extremely large organizations. The average annual revenues of evangelicals’ favorite organizations are $1.07 billion.
Yes, that’s “billion” with a “b.” Thirty-seven percent of evangelical donors name a favorite organization with annual revenues of $1 billion or more, and a total of 54% are at $500 million or higher, while only 12% have a favorite with revenues below $10 million. Again, evangelicals are almost exactly like non-evangelicals in these figures; donors in general tend to gravitate to extremely large organizations (which, of course, is a major reason they are extremely large).
When it comes to the causes they favor, evangelical donors are very similar to other donors. The top priorities of evangelicals include specific diseases such as diabetes or cancer, along with international relief and development, with domestic poverty in third place. And while 44% of evangelical donors prioritize a faith-based organization, just 12% prioritize an organization where faith is the primary cause: missions, evangelism, Christian media, discipleship, etc. The other 32% prioritize organizations which are Christian, but doing work such as education, providing clean water, or helping the disabled.
If you serve with a donor-supported ministry, consider some of the implications of this research:
In most ways evangelical donors are no different from other donors.
Your target donors aren’t just supporting other Christian ministries. They’re often favoring entirely secular organizations, so your “competition” is likely much broader than you may realize.
Financial efficiency is important, but scrimping on salaries, facilities, or systems which could help make you more effective is probably not a compelling way to be more appealing to donors.
If you’re not a huge brand, what makes you unique? If you’re largely saying the same things as billion-dollar ministries, you need to understand that they can say it much louder, more often, and possibly more effectively than you can. So instead of trying to compete with the same message, what can you say that sets you apart with a unique identity?
If you’re a donor, take a step back and consider what your giving says about your priorities.
Far be it from us as researchers to say donors should or should not support certain types of work. Giving is a very personal decision. There should be no concerns when evangelicals want to cure disease, help stray animals, or protect the environment. But one is left to question to what extent it is laudable for lupus, puppies, or endangered marine iguanas to be what evangelicals want to support above everything else.
Our priorities say a lot about our values. As evangelicals, our giving priorities say we often do not place an especially high value on ministry.
Ron Sellers is the grey matter behind Grey Matter Research. He has served over 100 donor-supported organizations in his career, along with many for-profit companies, through consumer insights and market research.
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