First Black Friday, then Cyber Monday, now Giving Tuesday! Black Friday and Cyber Monday are days for getting bargains. Giving Tuesday (this year December 1st) is a day for giving back. And thankfully, more people are getting on the Giving Tuesday bandwagon. It’s getting more attention than ever.
The Giving Tuesday campaign was started several years ago to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It is a known fact that most non-profit organizations in the US receive 30-40% of their annual donations in the last few weeks of the year.
Giving Tuesday celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support non-profit organizations. Henry Timms, the movement’s mastermind, says “Giving Tuesday is part of America’s great philanthropic tradition. You don’t have to be rich to be a philanthropist; anyone can make a lasting impact when they donate for causes that matter to them.” The day is meant to bring the country together around the theme of helping one another. So he encourages people to write a check or give on line to support their favorite charities at the beginning of December.
In my opinion, this is a great reminder (which falls just after Thanksgiving and at the beginning of the Advent season) to think seriously about our giving and what really matters.
My interest in Giving Tuesday is prompted by three trends. The first trend is the decline in giving to religious non-profits. Part of this comes from an overall decline in church attendance and membership. But part of it was caused by the Great Recession of 2008. The economic downturn brought with it a decline in giving to all non-profits. This, along with the pullback of government funding, is one reason why Giving Tuesday came into existence. Consequently, many people reduced their donations, and religious non-profits took the biggest hit.
A second trend is the decline in tithers to Christian ministries. Recent Barna reports tell us that the percentage of Americans donating at least 10% to churches and charities declined sharply in 2010. As of 2013, only 5% of US adults tithed their income. Americans donated approximately 2% of their disposable income to charity in 2014.
Again, this may have something to do with the economic squeeze of the American middle class. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the real median annual income of a male full-time worker, adjusted for inflation, peaked back in 1973! This leaves many Americans feeling like they can’t afford to increase their giving.
A third trend is a corresponding explosion of non-profit organizations in recent years. There are some 1.6 million non-profit organizations in the United States. The number of public charities is up 50% since 2000! And there are all kinds of charities—traditional ones such as churches, schools and ministries that help the poor, but also many new ones for every cause imaginable.
So put it together—a decline in giving to non-profit religious organizations, fewer people giving to those organizations, and a dramatic growth of non-profit giving options, and you have significantly fewer dollars going to Christian ministries than we did in the past. Does your church or ministry feel the squeeze?
Christians need to think seriously about their giving habits. Giving Tuesday is a great occasion to do this.
Scripture calls us to be generous givers. But if ever there was a time to be discerning in our giving, it is now. There is a need to give to what I call “mission critical” causes. That is, some non-profits should be very low on our list of giving priorities, while others should be very high. Highest of all should be your local church. Do not ignore faithfully giving to your local church.
What else is mission critical? Ministries that help the needy. Scripture is full of admonitions to not forget the poor.
And along with these is the importance of supporting ministries that promote the gospel or train the next generation of pastors, missionaries, counselors and Christian leaders for gospel ministry. That’s what we do at Reformed Theological Seminary. We are training the next generation of pastors and leaders—the leaders who will minister the gospel to your children and grandchildren. I think you’ll agree that it’s a very strategic investment. Our local congregations, our society and the Great Commission itself depend upon it. But we can’t do it without your help!
So if Giving Tuesday helps us focus our thoughts this year, then by all means, let’s get on this band wagon! But please do so in a way that gives priority to causes that are central to the overall mission of the church.