Donors Proceed With Caution, Tithing Declines

A new research study by the Barna Group explores how the charitable landscape has changed over the last two and a half years. The study examines how many Americans have been affected by the economic downturn, how this has influenced their donations, and their outlook on economic recovery.
Reducing Donations & Tithing
Tracking the percentage of adults who have reduced their giving in the last three months the report shows that in the immediate aftermath of the economic crisis in late 2008, two out of 10 Americans (20%) had reduced their giving to a church or religious center; three out of 10 (31%) had downsized their giving to other nonprofits. Then, 14 months later, in January of 2010, both measures had increased: three in 10 adults had reduced giving to churches (29%) and nearly half said they had curtailed their generosity to other nonprofits (48%).

Based on the latest research from Barna, conducted in April 2011, the percentage of those who are reducing their giving to churches has not abated (30%). At the same time, the proportion of Americans who reported declining giving to nonprofits has dropped somewhat, to 39%. This is still higher than the measures revealed during the early months of the economic crisis, but softened since early 2010.

Those who have cut back charitable giving in recent months were most likely to be women, Boomers (ages 46 to 64), lower income households, families with young children, married adults, Catholics, and Hispanics.

The donors most likely to reduce church-related giving were Boomers, lower income households, Northeastern residents, and those who identify themselves as Christians but are only moderately involved with a church.

Among those whose church giving has declined, 24% have stopped all giving to churches; 17% have decreased their giving by 20% or less; 7% have lessened their donations by 20% to 45%; 17% have reduced their giving by half; 12% have decreased their giving by more than half. In comparison with just 15 months prior, church donors were nearly one-quarter more likely to have reduced their church giving by half or more.

Consistent with this trend, the Barna study revealed that the number of people who are tithing has also dropped. The practice of tithing – donating at least 10% of one’s income to churches or other charities – has been relatively stable over the past decade, hovering between 5% and 7%. Currently, the national tithing rate is down to 4% of the adult population. This is slightly below the levels of the last 10 years and significantly lower than last year’s rate (7%).

Many Americans remain pessimistic about the prospects of a pending recovery. Nearly half of adults (47%) said they expect the economy to take in excess of three more years to recover. This is up from 42% in January 2010 and just 32% in November of 2008.

Three-quarters of Americans now believe the economy will take at least two years or more to get back to normal, or say that it will never fully recover.

Men, Mosaics (ages 18 to 26), those earning less than $40,000, unmarried adults, evangelicals, atheists and agnostics, and Hispanics were among the most likely to express concern about economic renewal.

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