It will take months to tally the millions of Americans donate to charity on Giving Tuesday. But analysts already know what kinds of charities are favored by American evangelicals—and that the GOP tax reform bill that went into effect last year has had an impact on giving.
Overall, cash giving to evangelical ministries held steady between 2017 and 2018 (the latest year for which data is available), declining 0.6 percent after six consecutive years of increases, according to a new report by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).
The virtually unchanged giving levels among evangelical ministries emerged despite a 6.2 percent decline in the stock market’s S&P 500 index, which tends to mirror trends in charitable giving, and despite a 3.9 percent decline in overall giving to religion between 2017 and 2018, according to an analysis by Giving USA.
“I am pleased to see this ongoing support for Christ-centered churches and ministries,” said Dan Busby, ECFA president, and CEO. “This generosity positions ECFA members to continue their positive impact for their causes both domestically and internationally.”
The State of Giving 2019 analysis from ECFA considered the finances of more than 1,900 of its accredited members and included $13.9 billion in cash giving. All year-to-year comparisons in the report were adjusted for inflation.
Despite some recent scrutiny over its role as a financial watchdog, EFCA itself has been growing, from 1,409 member ministries in 2009 to more than 2,400 today. (The year-to-year analysis relied mostly on audited financial statements and considered only ministries that were members during both years under evaluation.)
Eleven of the 26 ministry categories tracked saw decreases in giving for 2018. The four hardest hit were church denominations (down 11.1%), leadership training ministries (down 7.1%), relief and development ministries (down 6.9%), and K–12 education (down 6.5%). [The full table of ministry categories is at the bottom of this article.]
In a webinar accompanying the ECFA’s report, Busby said five-year giving trends generally are more significant than year-to-year comparisons because two-year analyses can be skewed by shifts at larger ministries, among other factors. The bottom four ministry categories in the 2017–2018 analysis all saw growth or held steady in their giving totals over the previous five years.
Despite the decline in overall denominational giving for 2017–2018 in the ECFA study, giving to the two largest US Protestant denominations—the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and the United Methodist Church (UMC)—basically was steady over the same period, according to financial statements from each denomination. The $197 million received through the SBC’s Cooperative Program allocation budget for its fiscal year ending September 30, 2018, was down 0.05 percent from the previous year. Contributions to the UMC’s general funds totaled $143.7 million in 2018, a 0.2 percent increase from 2017.
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