Beyond World Vision or Compassion International, where are evangelicals giving? | The Best Samaritan with Jamie Aten and Kent Annan
What is your top priority in how you spend your time?
What about the people in your life – what is your top priority 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 the most.
Based on their giving priorities, the majority of evangelicals do not value charities and faith-based ministries the most in their giving outside of the church.
Gray Matter Research and Infinity Concepts have partnered to conduct research among evangelical Protestants. In our recent report, “Favorite Charity: Evangelical Giving Priorities,” we asked evangelical donors to name the ministry or charity other than their church that they prioritize above all others. .
First, note that 42% of evangelical Protestants have not given a penny in the past year to an organization outside of their church (and 26% have given nothing to the church). Those who did identified the one organization they would support financially if they could only donate to one.
The names we got were everywhere (as you would expect, with over a million organizations to choose from): big 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.
Of all these brands, 54% of evangelical donors have a number one prioritizing that is not Christian.
When we combine this with the fact that 42% of evangelicals don’t give outside of the church, it means that only 27% of all evangelicals give money and place a Christian organization as their top priority.
Of the 19 brands favored by evangelical donors, ten are entirely secular. The top five include the Salvation Army and Samaritan’s Purse, but also UNICEF, the 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 only 14% of evangelical donors have a preferred organization with a single-digit overhead ratio. The organization preferred by average evangelicals spends 18.5% on overhead – the same number as the organizations preferred by non-evangelical donors.
We also discovered that, like the typical American donor, evangelicals tend to favor very large organizations. The average annual revenue of organizations favored by evangelicals is $1.07 billion.
Yes, it’s “billion” with a “b”. Thirty-seven percent of evangelical donors name a favorite organization with annual revenue of $1 billion or more, and a total of 54% are at $500 million or more, while only 12% have a favorite with revenue less than $10 million. Again, evangelicals are almost exactly like non-evangelicals in these numbers; donors in general tend to gravitate towards extremely large organizations (which, of course, is one of the main reasons why they are extremely large).
When it comes to the causes they support, evangelical donors are much like other donors. Top priorities for evangelicals include specific diseases such as diabetes or cancer, as well as international aid and development, with domestic poverty coming third. And while 44% of evangelical donors prioritize a faith-based organization, only 12% prioritize an organization where faith is the root cause: missions, evangelism, Christian media, discipleship, etc. The other 32% give priority to Christian organisations, but doing work such as education, the supply of drinking water or helping people with disabilities.
If you serve in a donor-supported ministry, consider some of the implications of this research:
In many ways, evangelical donors are no different from other donors.
Your target donors don’t just support other Christian ministries. They often favor entirely secular organizations, so your “competition” is probably much wider than you think.
Financial efficiency is important, but skimping on salaries, facilities, or systems that might make you more efficient probably isn’t a compelling way to be more attractive to donors.
If you’re not a big brand, what makes you unique? If you are saying much the same things as billion-dollar departments, you need to understand that they can say it much louder, more often, and perhaps more effectively than you. So, instead of trying to compete with the same message, what can you say that sets you apart with a unique identity?
If you are a donor, take a step back and think about what your giving reveals about your priorities.
It is far from us, as researchers, to say that donors should or should not support certain types of work. Giving is a very personal decision. There should be no worries when evangelicals want to cure disease, help stray animals, or protect the environment. But the question remains how laudable it is that lupus, puppies or endangered marine iguanas are what evangelicals want to support above all else.
Our priorities say a lot about our values. As evangelicals, our giving priorities indicate that we often do not place a particularly high value on ministry.
Ron Sellers is the gray matter behind Gray Matter Research. He has served more than 100 donor-supported organizations during his career, as well as many for-profit companies, with consumer insights and market research.