7 Trends in Faith-Based Philanthropy

During the dedication of Sandpiper Cottage at the North Carolina Baptist Assembly, staff director Rick Holbrook shared a fascinating story.

In the 1940s, North Carolina Baptists were approached about the possibility of purchasing the Oak Island property for $110,000. “Being Baptists”, according to Rick, “they formed a committee and then negotiated a lower price.” And that investment of $87,000 has paid tremendous dividends over many decades. Today, the property is insured for $20 million and each year 40,000 guests attend retreats, conferences, and youth camps.

All those interested in Christian stewardship will appreciate a similar return on investment. Here are seven trends to monitor in the important area of faith-based giving.

  1. Accountability is the number one buzzword in philanthropy. Contributors want to be sure that their gifts are spent wisely. Local churches, area ministries, and national organizations realize the importance of credibility in their decision-making and transparency in their reporting.
  2. The largest charitable gifts are usually estate gifts. While many are fluent in the language of charitable trusts, over 85 percent of estate gifts involve a simple bequest. Frank Westmoreland, a retiree of Piedmont Airlines, died on May 29, 2013 and left a bequest which totaled nearly $600,000 to the Building Fund of his church, Ardmore Baptist Church in Forsyth County.
  3. Youth-led initiatives are on the rise. News stories abound of children who request “no gifts” for their birthday parties, and instead ask that attendees make a donation to a specific charitable cause. The next wave of philanthropists is being trained in church mission groups and by civic clubs like Kiwanis and Rotary with a presence on school campuses.
  4. We live in a high-tech world, but philanthropy is a high-touch endeavor. The most successful leaders I know still write handwritten notes. Technology is great at reaching the masses, but raising money still requires the personal touch and face-to-face interaction. Development officers in colleges and medical centers have set a high standard for identifying, cultivating, and involving prospective supporters.
  5. Task forces are in and committees are out. Leaders are finding it extremely difficult to recruit individuals to serve in long-term committee assignments. Rather, they form task forces which focus on a single goal and then disband when the task is completed.
  6. Bob Buford was exactly right about leaving a legacy. In his book Halftime, Buford said that most Americans spend the first half of their lives looking for worldly success. At midlife, many begin to look for significance in terms of leaving a legacy. While his research was primarily focused on men, it is known that female philanthropists share this interest in making a difference.
  7. If volunteers write the plan, then they will underwrite the plan. Simple translation: volunteers are key to the ongoing success of any organization. A high priority should be placed on their recruitment, training, and development.

In today’s fast-paced society, donors are intent on making an investment, not a donation. And whether the gift is for a prison ministry, children’s home, or medical center, there will definitely be a “return on investment” that cannot be calculated in mere financial terms.