Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Chronicle of Philanthropy, in the June 17th issue, reports on Giving USA for 2009.  According to another monitoring agency, Empty Tomb, “religion” last year raised 100.95 billion dollars, which means that it represents 33 percent of all charitable giving.  
The public knows that the financial crisis and recession have hit philanthropy hard.  The big givers held back most:  Gifts in the over-one-million-dollar class were down 63.6 percent!  Giving to colleges and universities was down 17.8 percent and to hospitals, down 11 percent.  On such a scale, religion held up well.  Analysis of 1,247 religious organizations in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability showed giving was down only 3.7 percent there, all according to the Giving USA  reckoning.  Empty Tomb found that overall giving to religion, after inflation, was down only 0.3 percent.  
The first question about statistics is:  How accurate are they?  One gets the impression from the numerous people quoted in the several Chronicle articles that a) they recognize the surveyors as conscientious, their methods ever-improving, their intentions good, b) but the results are not fully trustworthy.  Many observers think that the decline in most of the areas, including religion, the “least-declinist,” is more steep than reported.  It has certainly been steeper than that at St. Mark’s.

The analysts look at annual reports and balance sheets of religious organizations, most of which have had to cut back on personnel and projects because there are smaller funds with which to work.  They talk to development officers and financial stewards and draw the conclusion that almost across the board, there’s been a decline of more than 0.3 percent.  You might say that the professionals can “feel it in their bones,” trading anecdotes, looking in the mirror, and reading e-mails about unemployed relatives who, no matter where their heart is, cannot keep up with pledges or match those from earlier years. Again, our experience at St. Mark’s would confirm their intuitions.
Joblessness, market jitters, and other factors can take a spiritual toll.  It is also important to see where priorities are.  Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council, rightly says that “the impact of the recession has been spotty.  Rescue missions and child-sponsor groups in many cases have done well, while others are impacted more significantly.”  Favorite causes and those which have commanded loyalties over the years fare best.
In the Great Depression, many religious groups suffered a great depression, so in this Great Recession it is natural for many groups to experience some, if not great, recession.  But comparing international and local cultural trends, one can only conclude that great numbers of Americans, including many supporters of the mission and ministry of St. Mark’s, moved by their faith, can be counted on.
Marty Martin, June 21 “Sightings”. http://bit.ly/9GuzI6

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