Religious Giving Increases, But Leadership Disconnects Prevail

December 2, 2014       Patrick Sullivan      

Charitable giving to religious-related organizations increased 6.9 percent between 2012 and 2013. That closely mirrors the 6.4 percent increase between 2011 and 2012. That’s according to the Winchester, Va.-based Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability’s (ECFA) 2014 State of Giving Report.

Total cash donations to ECFA-accredited organizations, of which there are almost 1,900, came in at $11.6 billion in 2013, up from 2012’s total of $10.9 billion. “The second consecutive year of increases among ECFA-accredited organizations and a boost to secular charities last year send a strong signal that charitable giving is rebounding,” said ECFA president Dan Busby via a statement.

Noncash giving in 2013, at a total of $3.4 billion, increased 0.7 percent compared to 2012. Total revenue was up 8.2 percent, from $21.4 billion in 2012 to $23.1 billion in 2013. Giving for camps and conference saw the biggest bump last year, an increase of 18.8 percent over 2012. Also coming in strong was giving for: children’s homes (13.9 percent increase); orphan care (12.0 percent increase); and other (11.0 percent). Giving for K-12 education dropped the most in 2013, a decrease of 7 percent.

A separate study of 2,490 board chairs, board members and chief executives showed a slight disconnect between initial perspectives of effectiveness in governance and deep thinking. Survey takers were asked to rate their board’s effectiveness twice in the study, and all scores dropped slightly between the first and second answers. CEOs initially rated their boards an average of 3.98 (out of a possible 5), while board chairs rated an average of 4.25 and board members rated 4.27. By the second time the question was asked, those ratings dropped to 3.92, 4.16 and 4.17.

That is one of the findings of ECFA’s third annual Nonprofit Governance Survey. “As we review best practices and trends, ministry leaders can better discern how to resource their boards in God-honoring ways,” said Busby.

The governance survey also gives insight into ECFA-accredited organizations. More than half, or 59 percent, have annual operating budgets of $2 million or less. Some 27.3 percent had budgets of between $2 million and $10 million, and the remaining were large organizations with budgets ranging from $11 million to more than $100 million. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents’ organizations have three-year board terms, with about half reporting no term limits and 31.7 percent saying they have a two-term limit.

While impact measurement is important, it does not always drive policy and governance. Some 85.2 percent agreed that donors are very interested in knowing about the mission impact; 80.6 percent of CEOs reported that senior leadership is very interested in measuring mission impact, and 71.2 percent said their boards were also very focused on measuring mission impact. However, less than two-thirds reported that measurements have caused the organizations to “change course or add more resources to certain programs.”

The survey teased out five traits common to effective boards. These boards: annually affirm and own the strategy; offer strategic, as opposed to tactical, input; understand their roles and responsibilities; ensure there’s an active strategic planning process in place; and, assess risks and opportunities.

Finally, most boards believe their organizations are on the right track. Answers ranged from 90.7 percent to 98.6 percent agreeing or strongly agreeing on a series of six questions related to Christ-centered governance. Only 0.57 percent strongly disagreed on these questions.

“The extremely positive responses — the highest scores in the entire survey — would indicate that ministries have and are recruiting board members who demonstrate a high regard for the distinctives of Christ-centered governance and who seek to honor God as stewards of His work,” wrote the study’s authors.