There is much unknown about the effects the new tax law will have on philanthropic giving in 2018. Since most of my work is with congregations and church-related organizations, I will limit my perspective to how the church and related organizations should respond in 2018 to the new tax plan. Many philanthropic leaders are nervous and some are even afraid. This is natural in a time of change. I don’t think we need to worry, but organizations which rely on donations should make certain they are telling their story well and positioning themselves to remain in the front of the mind of donors.
One reason churches and other charities see such large revenues in December is that people are wanting to give before the end of the year so that they can claim this charitable deduction. The tax code has for decades held provision to allow for charitable deductions by those who “itemize deductions”. While the charitable deduction will still be allowed, the new standard deduction has basically doubled which will result in fewer people claiming this deduction. This means that people are getting as much or more deduction without having to itemize.
Approximately 70% of Americans in 2016 took the standard deduction and did not itemize. People with larger incomes tend to be more likely to itemize. Reasonably, the effect of losing the charitable deduction could be felt more by those with larger incomes who are currently your donors (https://taxfoundation.org/who-itemizes-deductions/). At the same time, most Americans with larger incomes will be receiving significant tax breaks. And a few of these large donors will still choose to itemize deductions.
I encourage you to not focus on deductibility of gifts. In my eighteen years of development experience with the church and church related organizations, I have found very few donors who are “deduction motivated”. Many appreciate that they can claim the deduction for tax purposes, but that isn’t why they give. Churches and other non-profit organizations should focus on what motivates donors to give and how to do a better job of raising up that motivation.
The giving landscape is changing. Donors are giving to fewer and fewer charities. For years, the church has been receiving a smaller percentage of overall giving in America. This has had nothing to do with tax deductibility, but with the failure to tell our missional story—a story of what God is doing in our world and through our churches and ministries today. I must acknowledge that even as the church receives a smaller percentage of gifts overall that giving over the last two years has been at record levels.
Yes, mid-level and larger donors may lose out on their ability to deduct their gift to your organization. Many of these givers will actually realize a greater deduction with the new standard deduction and most will have more money because their taxes will go down.
Historically, churches and charities have benefited when people have had more money at their disposal, but the benefit is not as much as might be expected. Instead, both churches and charities improve giving to the greatest extent when telling their stories well—stories of lives changed, impacts made as a result of the generosity of donors.
What I have seen from many churches is simply telling a financial snapshot. They share how much expenses exceed revenue and tell people the need is for more money. This is simply sharing information and it makes it about money and not mission. A college once shared with me the cost of the electric bill. This is not motivating to most donors, especially me. Sometimes, we share good information, such as we had 100 children participate in Vacation Bible School and this is good, but it can be better. The church should stop sharing statistics and numbers and start telling stories of impact. Tell the story of the youth who helped lead Vacation Bible School and came to understand their God given gifts. Tell stories of how pastoral care helped someone see God active in their life. Tell the story of how Sabbath rest in worship renews people who feel beaten up by the world.
There will be some churches and church related organizations that struggle next year and they will blame the new tax law. If so, I hope they will have talked to their mid-range and upper-range donors to find out for certain that is what happened. At the same time, I hope they will evaluate how they tell their story and take inventory of what God is doing through their ministry and how they communicate that. I think storytelling is far more important than tax law.
To best position your organization and your most faithful and generous supporters to navigate this new tax code, consider implementing these steps as the new year begins:
- In January and February have intentional conversations with 12-20 mid to upper range donors ($3,600 and up in most churches/$1,000 and up in most organizations). Ask them what the new tax law means to them. Together, determine strategies to help them. For instance, some donors may start giving every other year to lump their giving to take a deduction every other year. Being aware of their giving intentions will enable better financial planning for your organization’s leadership.
- After the first quarter, evaluate each donor (or donors of a certain level or above), and check on how their giving compares to previous years (or their pledge). Contact any who are behind to encourage their continued support.
- Evaluate the stories of impact that you share and determine that they are reaching your target audience.
- Invite a few donors to share their intention to maintain or even increase their giving in the coming year because they love the ministry of the organization and feel it makes a difference. They can even state that the tax law is not a factor in their giving decision.
- Provide prospective supporters a vision for more ministry that your organization can provide. People give to vision. Shrinking organizations normally get less money as donors become underwhelmed by the limited impact.
- Encourage donors to give appreciated stock. They still avoid capital gains taxes
Ministry needs will continue to grow in the future. Most of the churches (over 60) and organizations (over 10) that I worked with in 2017 are expecting more ministry to happen in 2018 than in 2017 and I believe that they will experience that. Several churches are expecting 20% or more growth for ministry in the next year and givers have indicated their commitment to support this growth. While the new tax code has left non-profit organizations concerned about its impact on givers, I remind you that the tax bill was working through Congress as organizations made these plans and as donors made their commitments to support them. The needs addressed by these ministries and the donor desire to partner with them supersedes tax reform.
The world is changing around us but as we vision a world that God is active in, we can dream boldly and live into those dreams.
Contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org
We raised more than $2 million but we were still 15% short of the goal. Should we accept long-term financing and just “suck it up” as missing the total need?
As we reached the final months of the appeal, rather than accepting less than what we needed, campaign leadership re-engaged our efforts. We asked two members who chose not to give to the appeal for a challenge gift. One of them stepped forward with a $100,000 challenge gift for more contributions over and above what was already committed. A zero dollar donor to the original appeal became a six figure challenge donor!
Those who were generous to the original appeal were invited to extend their gift. Those who didn’t engage the first appeal were invited to new or increased gifts. The entire congregation was engaged to reach what I consider “excellence” rather than accept a shortfall.
Rather than accepting anything but complete success has led this congregation to needing to inform donors what will happen with gifts in excess of the total need. What a great way to enforce an abundance mentality.
Imagine driving by a restaurant with this sign outside: We lose money being open on Mondays. Come eat and help us break even. Doesn’t that just make you want to go out to eat on a Monday night??
In order to increase business during their slow times restaurants appeal, not their bottom line, but to the self-interest of their potential patrons. They think, “What would appeal my customers? What would encourage them to come out to eat on the first work day of the week after a busy weekend?” This thinking leads to marquees that read things like $5 Burger Night and Free Pie Mondays. Cheap burgers? Free pie? I could be convinced!
Considering the customer’s standpoint changes the messaging from one of scarcity to one of possibility.
The same is true for congregations. In the middle of summer, most experience a dip in giving. As people head out of town for weekend activities, worship attendance goes down. Fewer people in worship translates to fewer dollars in the offering plate. Church budgets feel the pinch.
To address this challenge, many congregations offer their members some form of automated giving (many Lutheran churches use Simply Giving through Vanco). Congregations with larger percentages of automated givers have better cash flow during the summer months, easing the strain on treasurers as bills come due.
This leads to announcements like this (that I have heard many times in many places), “During the summer months we experience a shortfall of giving. Automated giving is a way for you to help your church! Even when you are out of town your donations will continue to come and help us meet our expenses. Please, won’t you sign up now?” It’s 100% true, but it doesn’t prove very inspiring. It focuses on scarcity and shortfall and not on God’s abundance. At the heart, this message sounds much like the first restaurant marquee. We lose money in the summer. Sign up for automated giving and help us break even. Not very inspiring!
A couple weeks ago I attended a congregation that came at this from a different direction. A video showed a couple who said, “We love this church and are excited to be a part of financially supporting a place where we can see God at work in powerful ways. We had a hard time keeping track of the checks that we put in the offering plate. Every time we’d come to worship we’d have to pull out the checkbook and look back to see when the last check had been written. Automated giving took those worries away. Now we can support our church on a regular basis without the worry and hassle of trying to keep track of it all. We love it.”
Considering the donor’s standpoint changed the messaging from one of scarcity to one of possibility. The focus remained on the ease of supporting God’s activity through the church and not on the lack of funds in the plate.
What message does your congregation convey as you seek to expand the rolls of automated givers? Do you appeal to scarcity and need or to possibility and abundance? Do you focus on what is good for the congregation or what is good for the donor?
“They’ll never know his name.”
Many of us gathered in Blair, Nebraska to celebrate the life of Gene Meyer who passed away after years of valiant and faith-filled struggle with ALS. Gene was a fifteen-year associate with GSB and served many clients over those years. Prior to that Gene served as a development professional and executive in higher education, health care and social service agencies.
Gene’s son, Pastor Kevin Meyer, preached the sermon this day and he, along with his brother and sister, gave testimony to Gene’s joyous and energetic role as father and grandfather. A great day of remembering this fine man – though all of us are saddened and will sorely miss Gene’s bright smile, laughter and conversation.
During his sermon, Kevin provided us another dimension to Gene’s life. We were reminded that in Gene’s lifelong career as a fundraiser and nonprofit leader, he left his mark and his work put in place strong ministries and funding that have touched tens of thousands and still continue to do so even now, as Gene has left us.
The money that Gene raised, the counsel he provided to assist others in raising money, the organizational coaching that he did with so many and the kind and effective encouragement he provided to volunteers has been multiplied many times over. Gene will continue to touch people for years to come in this way but “they will never know his name.”
That is the work that we, who serve with nonprofits in many different roles, are engaged. We really are change agents in society and bring about answers and solutions to problems across our country and the world. And, for the most part, those we touch will never know our names. That’s okay, isn’t it?
The following statement is attributed to many – I will attribute it to President Harry Truman: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you do not care who gets the credit.”
A good mantra for our work and for our lives, don’t you think?
Endowment programs have nearly always taken a back seat in non-profit organization fundraising programs, and the economic squeeze of the last decade adding to the urgency of annual funding for current programs has pushed conscious efforts to secure deferred and estate gifts further out of view.
Regardless of the size of your organization—be it big or small, if intentional cultivation of planned gifts isn’t part of your on-going fundraising strategy, you’re setting up your organization for perpetual financial struggle.
It has been suggested that as much as 50% of future contributions to non-profits may come from gifts planned years before (Greenfield, 1999). Few organizations can afford to pass on this financial support, and none would want to.
There are many reasons to improve your endowment program now. Here are three:
- You don’t have to be an estate tax specialist.
In our current philanthropic climate, it’s possible that securing estate gifts has never been both easier and more complicated at the same time. Access to information and education for potential donors has never been more plentiful while the host of charitable vehicles and ever-changing tax codes can intimidate even the most seasoned gift officers.
The good news is that there are financial advisors and tax specialists available to help when a donor is ready to make such a gift. In fact, we strongly recommend gift officers direct potential planned gift donors to seek out third-party financial and tax advisors to ensure gifts made to the organization are in the interest of the donor, and avoid the perception of coercion or other impropriety. Establish organizational policies and procedures to receive these gifts, and leave the gifting technicalities to the estate professionals.
- For some donors, giving later may be easier than giving now.
Donors who are conscientious about economic uncertainty, or who are anticipating financial transitions (i.e., college-bound kids, a pending retirement, a future inheritance), may have limited resources today, but can more easily support the organizations they care about as part of their estate. Even a small percentage of an estate can have a significant impact on your organization and create a legacy for the giver.
Raising awareness among your faithful supporters that your organization is prepared to receive and manage deferred gifts instills confidence in donors that their donations will have an impact for years to come.
- Despite immediate financial pressures, the organizational mission is about the long-view.
For donors and organizational staff alike, it’s common to feel the pressure of immediate needs around budgets, facility maintenance and program funding shortfalls. Deferred and estate gifts help transition responses from reactive to proactive—a healthier and more productive way to carry out the organizational mission.
Endowments create financial resources for those same needs in the years to come, while also inspiring supporters, board members and employees to think about how needs and mission may develop in the future in response to cultural and environmental trends.
If your organization has suspended in endowment fundraising efforts for more urgent funding demand, it’s time to reallocate your strategy. Don’t have an endowment program in place? It’s time to start!
For information on how GSB can help to kick-start your planned and deferred giving efforts with a time- and cost-effective plan, contact me at Jennie@gsbfr.com.
Greenfield, J. (1999). Fundraising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process. 297.
I was speaking with a group of pastors the other day. The topic of stewardship came up, as it often does when I am in the room. We talked about how larger portions of congregation budgets are being provided by fewer donors. There used to be the 80/20 rule that 80 percent was given by 20 percent of the people. Recent studies have shown a shift to 90/10, and worse.
The critical problem occurs when these large donors leave, either because they move, they get mad, or they die. Making up the difference from a few large donors can be nearly impossible for many churches.
When you have a large donor or several, you should celebrate. However, you should work exceedingly hard to raise up other donors. Just because the Smiths will write a check at the end of the year to balance your budget, doesn’t make that a good thing.
In fact, when you have that situation, growing your donor base should become even more critical. I suggested to these pastors that they encourage these large donors to use their gifts to help raise up other generous donors. This can happen by matching or challenge gifts. Even better, it can happen by personal witness and faith sharing by the donors who understand generosity. If we are going to replace these donors someday, we have to be teaching the next generation how to become like them.
I have definite ideas about offering plates. I think offering plates should be round, large, (at least 12 inches in diameter) made of brass and heavy. A person receiving the plate from a pew neighbor should have to put both hands on the plate, and it should not rise up in the air when it is received. Felt material in the bottom of the plate is optional.
In other words, the receptacle should be worthy of the gift. If I’m making an offering to God, and putting money in an offering plate is a symbol of giving something of myself, then that act needs proper attention.
I may be obsessing about offering plates because I have read three books recently with “offering plate” in the title. For a while now, however, I’ve been observing the passing of the plate ritual in congregations, and I’m not very happy with what I see.
The ritual has changed. I can remember when receiving the offering took an usher on each end of the pew to keep the plates moving smoothly and reverently. Nowadays, the passing of the plate is anything but smooth because there are sometimes whole rows where nobody puts in anything. What’s an usher to do?
Last Sunday, I had to chase down the plate in the pew behind me because the first person on my pew shook his head when the usher offered the plate. The person in the middle of the row ahead of me actually held up her hand like she was stopping traffic to indicate that she didn’t need the plate, either.
I’m fairly confident that this negative body language does not indicate that these worshipers have no intention of giving; rather, it is a sign that they have already given. They either write one check monthly or use automatic bank draft. Either of those methods of giving is good and represents “first fruits” giving. Congregation leaders should encourage such systematic donations. But where does that leave the passing of the plate or receiving the offering?
Are there ways we can keep the emphasis on the offering as an important part, maybe even the most important part, of worship despite the many conveniences of non-cash contributions? Consider the following:
- The pastor can state, before distributing the offering plates, that now is the time in the service when we offer something of ourselves to God. Passing the plate symbolizes our giving something we value to God, even when the money doesn’t go in the plate at that very moment. An announcement such as, “We now worship through our tithes and offerings,” can remind people that we’re still in worship mode, not transacting the church’s business. Quoting the first verse of, “We Give Thee but Thine Own” is also good.
- Place filled offering plates on the altar (or other place significant in the worship service) even if they are moved later to prepare for communion elements. Sacrifices have a rightful place on an altar and are central to our worship.
- The choir anthem, which is most often sung while offerings are being received, could be placed at another time in the service thereby giving both the financial offering and the anthem more emphasis.
- Worshipers who contribute once a month (by check or bank draft) can be encouraged to place an additional offering representing something they have given up during the week or something or someone for which they are especially thankful.
- Some congregations have available in the pew row preprinted cards that state this person gives electronically. This allows the person opportunity to use the offering plate and serves to remind others about electronic giving.
- Children and youth can be encouraged to place their tithes and offerings during Sunday worship. Parents who contribute in other ways should explain to their children how and when they are giving.
- Occasionally receive a designated offering by asking everyone who is able to come forward and place that offering directly on the altar or some other place of significance.
Giving is worship and deserves our best presentation.