Misperceptions about Religious Giving

Misperceptions about Religious Giving

March 02, 2011 by jga_admin

by Dan Schipp

Having spent 25 years working in fund development for a religious organization, I have had a long standing interest in the connection between religion and giving.

How does faith drive and shape giving? How do religious values influence giving to both secular and religious causes? What is the relationship between giving and one’s relationship with God?

If you are looking for a thought-provoking book on the subject, I have found one for you.

The book, Religious Giving (Indiana University Press, 2010), is a collection of essays edited by David H. Smith, Director of the Yale Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics.

It focuses on philosophical and theological dimensions of giving within the Abrahamic traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The opening essay, written by Patrick M. Rooney, Executive Director of The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, addresses many misperceptions about the connection between religion and giving.

Dr. Rooney addresses eight commonly held beliefs about religious giving by analyzing data from two studies: The Center on Philanthropy Panel Study (COPPS) of giving by households in the lower 97% of income and wealth in the United States and the Bank of America Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy, which focuses on households in the top 3% of income and wealth.

What does the data tell us? It does not support the common belief that religious giving is declining. Dr. Rooney reports “while religious giving as a share of total giving is declining, religious giving has grown substantially over time – even after adjusting for inflation.

Among the other conclusions that Dr. Rooney draws from the datasets are the following:

  • Americans do not give the biblical tithe. Only 2.6% of Americans give 10% or more of their income to religious charities.
  • The wealthy do not give less to religion. Religious giving grows substantially with both income and wealth.
  • Religious giving is not inversely related to educational attainment. Education seems to positively affect giving, both in terms of being a donor at all and the amount donated.

Religious Giving is organized in four parts. The second section addresses religious rationales for giving. Those chapters are followed by others that tackle several problems of religious giving, including giving in a culture of debt and consumption and giving to meet people’s changing needs. The book concludes with a chapter written by Dr. Smith in which he pulls together the major themes of the book.

Religious Giving stimulates critical reflection and poses topics for further exploration and conversation. It is recommended reading in my book.