Millennials & America’s Coming Charity Deficit reveals how young people aren’t attached to religion, which bodes ill for the future of charitable giving.
The decline of religious belief in America will cause incalculable spiritual damage, but even nonbelievers should worry about the practical consequences of an increasingly secular U.S. Consider the ticking time bomb of philanthropic demise set to detonate in the coming years.
“People who are religiously affiliated are more likely to make a charitable donation of any kind, whether to a religious congregation or to another type of charitable organization,” according to a 2017 report from Giving USA. The organization found that 62% of religious households give to charity, compared with 46% of nonreligious ones. The Almanac of American Philanthropy reports that those who attend religious services regularly give to secular causes at more than double the rate of those who don’t.
Wealth and age matter too. The wealthiest 1.4% of the country comprise 86% of charitable donations, according to the Philanthropy Roundtable. Giving is highest among those in their 60s and 70s. That means that today disproportionately religious baby boomers, who hold a disproportionate amount of the nation’s wealth, are driving charitable giving.
Some 44% of Generation Z and 42% of millennials identify as religious “nones,” according to a recent Cooperative Election Study. As these generations amass wealth later in life, it’s unclear whether they will give with the same gusto as their more religious predecessors. The good news is that these groups are still decades away from entering their peak giving phases.
So what can be done to avert this looming generosity crisis? Religious organizations and churches are working to draw people back to faith, but some will never return. That doesn’t mean philanthropy will go away. There is a movement afoot to generate new giving rituals, cultivated through interfaith or even secular projects.
In 2019 the Inclusive America Project produced a report on modern philanthropic efforts. It showed that most religious organizations are committed to collaborating with groups representing other faiths to improve giving overall. They may co-host educational events or coordinate messaging for common philanthropic causes.
Others are working to pair religious and secular organizations to pursue common goals. David King, director of the Lake Institute, said nonreligious groups are starting to turn to religious ones for support and solidarity. “Secular philanthropies are realizing that religious communities can provide key resources,” Mr. King told me. “They have often been overlooked, and are willing to be in partnership for shared outcomes.”
Stand Together, a secular organization committed to working with faith-based institutions such as churches or community centers, offers a Faith Forward grant for local religious leaders to help their communities. Another organization with a similar program is the Woodson Center, which often works with faith-based institutions, especially black churches, on shared goals such as the restoration of families and revitalization of communities. While the Woodson Center isn’t explicitly religious, its website says the organization has found “the most effective neighborhood-based organizations are faith-centered.”
What about those truly outside of a faith community? Researcher Casper Ter Kuile has written extensively about the power of nonreligious community and how it can shape civil society as churches do. In “The Power of Ritual: How to Create Meaning and Connection in Everything You Do,” he writes of “layering meaning and ritual” into such everyday activities as going to a workout class or eating lunch. Think of them, he writes, “as spiritual practices.”
I see this at local gyms that raise money for such charitable causes as the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas. Looking outside traditional venues for charitable giving could help stem some of the expected losses in the coming decades, but it’s unlikely these efforts will fill the gaps entirely. The reality is that regular participation in a religious community is unparalleled in terms of bolstering funding and awareness for the most vulnerable people.
But giving more people more ways to expand and maintain their charitable giving in everyday life is better than nothing. And by the grace of God, bringing religious “nones” into the charitable fold could have the welcome side effect of bringing them back to religion.
You can learn more about Ericka Andersen at https://erickaandersen.com/
Ms. Andersen is author of “Return to Reason: Why Women Need the Church and the Church Needs Women,” forthcoming in January.
Ericka Andersen’ Warns of America’s Coming Charity Deficit was posted at INSIDE CHARITY
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Ericka Andersen’s Warns of America’ Coming Charity Deficit was reposted by Inside Charity from the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Page