Giving to Religious Organizations Dominates, According to Report

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November 26, 2013; Connected to Give: Faith Communities

A new report from Jumpstart and Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy looks at what proportion of charity from individuals in the United States is given to organizations that are either themselves religious, or have religious ties.

The most significant finding is that, according to the report, a full 73 percent of dollars given are directed to organizations that are explicitly identified as religious; these are divided into congregations (41 percent) and religiously identified organizations (32 percent). The religiously identified organizations may be working in a particular subsector, like human services, or they may be multipurpose. The rates of giving are found here to be relatively similar across different religious traditions.

Still, although the dollar value of contributions is higher to religious organizations, according to the report, more Americans give to organizations without religious ties than with religious ties. The median size of gifts to congregations, in that nonreligious organizations receive less in terms of a median gift size than congregations, but religiously identified organizations receive still less.

Median gift sizes

  • Congregations              $375
  • Non-religious                       $250
  •  Religiously identified      $150


One of the more interesting elements of the study is the finding that there is a correlation between giving to religiously identified organizations and giving in particular subsectors. “For example, among people who give to organizations that meet basic human needs, 66 percent do at least some of their giving to religiously identified basic needs organizations, but among people who give to environmental organizations, 42 percent do at least some of their giving to religiously identified environmental organizations.”

Placing this in context, however, the Giving USA Report for 2013 showed that there is a decline in giving to congregations for the third year in a row, both in terms of dollar totals and as a percentage of overall giving. Patrick Rooney of Indiana University notes that where giving to religion was half of the giving pie a few decades ago, it is now less than a third.

We encourage you to look at the report yourself if you have additional interest.—Ruth McCambridge


  • Michael Wyland

    I attended a week-long nonprofit leadership at Notre Dame in November. Dr. Timothy Seiler, Director of The Fund Raising School at the Lily School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, addressed the reduction in percentage of total giving directed to religious congregations. He noted that almost all religious giving is from individuals (not surprising). He also expressed the opinion that the reduction may be due to a change in people’s giving motivations. He theorizes that people are increasingly less likely to give based on a sense of duty or obligation. Seiler sees the reduction in percentage of giving to religion as a call for religious congregations to rethink their solicitation processes and messaging.