The 2009 Index on Global Philanthropy and Remittances reported that US congregations gave $8.6B to relief and development in developing countries in 2007, making religious organizations the second largest private contributor to causes in the developing world.
Research from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University made available through the Giving USA Foundation indicates that recessions historically have not had much effect on religious giving. Religious congregations remain the largest destination for American’s generosity even during economic slowdowns, and when adjusted for inflation during recessions, religious giving decreases -0.1% compared to an average 2.8% growth in non-recession years.
While giving levels within religious communities are likely to remain relatively stable throughout the recession, other, more missional shifts may be in play that influence the direction and ultimately the impact of the giving from religious organizations.
Next week, a group of several hundred individuals, families and foundations who give over $200,000 annually to Christian ministries will come together in Arizona for an annual conference called The Gathering to learn from and support each other.
Fred Smith, President of The Gathering, observes that historically, the focus of international giving from US religious communities, particularly evangelical communities, has been to projects focused on evangelism. He observes an increased interest from younger generations of evangelical givers to tackle thorny social justice problems like hunger, trafficking, domestic violence and other issues around health and education.
While evangelical Christians may be beginning to shift their focus of giving towards more relief and development activities, multilateral institutions like the World Bank and bilateral aid agencies like USAID are also just beginning to understand the dimensions of giving from private sources, including from the religious community. Thirty four percent of the $8.6B given by religious organizations in the US in 2007 to developing countries went to educational projects as compared to 4% of the $3.3B given by US foundations to education in the developing world.
While Evangelicals curiously observe the movements of the Obama Administration, the Obama Administration is clear that with regards to foreign aid, the private sector is a critical partner for public diplomacy as well as development. Religious organizations, foundations and even congregations are not necessarily new partners to the US government, however these private actors are sizeable, dependable, committed, and potentially changing their focus to becoming a different kind of partner or ally to overseas development assistance. This shift may be worrisome to the old guard of the faithful but welcomed by the younger generations.
Center for Global Prosperity