Atlas of Giving report: church donations way down in 2012

I remain convinced that the future is going to bring plenty of change to the Catholic Church and mainline Protestant denominations.

We know that church attendance is down pretty much across the board. We know that many church structures are aging and sparsely attended. We can see that here in York.

Now comes news that church giving is down. Way down. And it seems to be a trend that hasn’t bottomed out.

First, the good news. Total giving to nonprofits rose 6.7% in 2012, an increase of $23.32 billion over 2011. Giving to environmental causes grew by 11% in 2012, more than any other portion of the U.S. charitable economy.

“Overall, 2012 was a very solid year for giving,” Rob Mitchell, CEO of The Atlas of Giving, said. “Robust stock market performance, an improving economy, and a few very large individual contributions were significant factors.”

Gifts to the education sector increased by 8.8%, as did disaster-related giving, the latter fueled in large part by donations in the aftermath of super-storm Sandy, which wreaked havoc on portions of the U.S. east coast in late October.

However, giving to religion, the long dominant charitable sector, saw continued erosion of its share of the national giving pie. As recently as 2002, religious giving accounted for over 50% of all charitable donations. By contrast, giving to religion accounted for just 35% of the 2012 total.

If I can apply this report to what I see here in York County, it leads me to think major changes are on the way over the next decade. Giving here is strong… among the nondenominational megachurches, that is. Churches like Grace Fellowship, Living Word and LCBC continue to grow and thrive.

Meanwhile, we know that many Lutheran, Methodist and Catholic churches are suffering from declining attendance and, presumably, declining collection plates.

I have covered some church mergers and I believe several more are on the horizon.

What changes do you see happening in your church? How can your congregation remain healthy and vital into the future?

Here are a few more tidbits from the Atlas report:

2012 saw the announcement of several “mega-gifts” by individuals. Mitchell believes that a concern over possible elimination or diminishment of the charitable income tax deduction was motivational for these and many other gifts from wealthy individuals in 2012. Some of these “mega-gifts” included:

$3 billion given by Omaha investor Warren Buffet to charitable foundations operated by each of his three children
$499 million donated by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to Silicon valley Community Foundation
$300 million pledged by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen to his Allen Institute for Brain Science
$200 million given to Columbia University’s Mind Brain Behavior Institute by billionaire publisher and real estate tycoon Mortimer Zuckerman

About John Hilton

I grew up in Susquehanna County, Pa. and graduated Syracuse University with a dual degree in journalism/political science in 1998. After working for nearly three years for a weekly paper in upstate New York, I came to southcentral Pennsylvania. I spent 13 years as a reporter and editor for The Sentinel in Carlisle and joined the York Daily Record as religion reporter in September 2011.
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