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Charitable Giving

During the last half-century in America, increased wealth has coincided with decreased giving. Pollster George Barna writes, “Generally, the more money a person makes the less likely he is to tithe.” Indeed, giving levels were higher during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when incomes were low compared to today. Barna also confirmed that another factor influencing giving levels is faith-commitment: Giving is proportionately higher among born-again Christians. Why is this?


Charitable Giving (Americans)
  1. Total Giving: Total charitable giving by Americans in 2005 is estimated to have been $260.28 billion, an increase of 2.7 percent (when adjusted for inflation) over 2004.45

  2. Disaster Relief: Americans gave an estimated $7.37 billion for disaster relief in 2005: $5.3 billion for Hurricane Katrina, $1.92 billion for the Tsunami relief, and $0.15 billion for the India-Pakistan earthquake relief.55

  3. Giving to Religious Groups: Americans gave an estimated $93.18 billion to religious organizations in 2005, an increase of 2.5 percent (when adjusted for inflation).41

  4. Giving to Education: Americans gave an estimated $38.56 billion to educational organizations in 2005, an increase of 9.4 percent (when adjusted for inflation).42

  5. Giving to Foundations: Americans gave an estimated $21.70 billion in gifts to foundations in 2005.43

  6. Giving to Health Care: Americans gave an estimated $22.54 billion to health care organizations in 2005, a decline of 0.7 percent (when adjusted for inflation).44

  7. Giving to Human Services: Americans gave $25.36 billion to human services in 2005, an increase of 28% (when adjusted for inflation).45

  8. Giving to the Arts: Americans gave $13.51 billion to the arts and humanities in 2005, a decline of 6.6% (when adjusted for inflation).46

  9. Giving to Environmental Groups: Americans gave an estimated $8.86 billion to environmental organizations in 2005, an increase of 12.6% (when adjusted for inflation).47

  10. Encouragement to Give: Donors give more money when they’re treated well and informed by the organizations that they donate to.48

  11. Giving to Para-Church: In 2000, Americans donated an estimated $9 billion to para-church ministries (i.e. a religious organization other than a church or worship center).30

  12. Fund-Raising Media: Forty-two percent of donors donated to a direct mail appeal during a 12-month period in 2002-03. Other top mediums donors responded to include workplace campaigns (33 percent) and personal, face-to-face requests (32 percent). About a quarter of the donors surveyed (23 percent) gave to a request over the phone during that year. In terms of broadcast media, about 14 percent of the donors interviewed gave to a TV ad during that year and another 12 percent gave in response to a radio ad. Only 3 percent said they gave a gift in response to an online request.1

  13. Households: In 1998, 70 percent of American households gave. The average annual household contribution was $1,075.7

  14. Decline in Personal Tithing: One out of every 12 adults (8 percent) gave away at least a tithe of their income in 2001. That was marginally above the 6 percent of adults who tithed in 2000.8

  15. Decline in Household Tithing: The proportion of U.S. households that tithed their incomes to their churches dropped from 8 percent in 2001 to 3 percent of adults in 2002.33

  16. Percentage Given: “The IRS reports that those who itemize deductions on their income tax returns have claimed, since 1975, that between 1.6 percent and 2.16 percent of their income went to charitable concerns. Gallup polls taken every two years for the organization Independent Sector have found charitable donations to run between 1.5 percent and 2 percent of income. Giving USA, a definitive report published by American Association of Fund-Raising Counsel, says that giving has ranged between 1.7 percent and 1.95 percent of personal income over the last 20 years.”11

  17. Giving at Least Once: In 2000, 78 percent of Americans gave some money to at least one church or nonprofit group. Twenty-two percent did not give at all.30

  18. Declining Percentage of Givers: There has been a steady decline in percentage of Americans who give, down roughly 6 to 8 percent each year from 1998 to 2000.30

  19. Decline in Average Giving: Average giving per person in the United States dropped 15 percent from 1999 to 2000.30

  20. Reported versus Actual Tithing: In 2000, 17 percent of Americans claimed to tithe (i.e. give 10 percent of their income to the church) while only 6 percent actually did so.30

  21. Boomers and Busters: As of 2001, Baby Boomers (ages 35-55) are generous donors but do not tend to give to churches. Baby Busters (ages 20-35) give very little money at all but tend to give volunteer time.30

  22. Giving and GDP: U.S. giving has represented about 2 percent of gross domestic product for four decades.31

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Charitable Giving (American Young Adults)
  1. Twentysomethings Give Less: “Only 3 out of 10 twentysomethings donated to a church in the past year, which is half the proportion of older adults (30 percent to 61 percent). (While twentysomethings generally have smaller income levels than their older counterparts, this measure has nothing to do with how much the person donates, but whether they contribute financially at all to churches).”40

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Charitable Giving (American Youth)
  1. Giving from Childhood: People who do not give philanthropically as youngsters are less likely to do so as they mature and age.5

  2. Donations by Teens: Thirty-eight percent of teens in 1999 donated some of their own money to a church in a given week.9

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Charitable Giving (American Wealthy)
  1. Average Annual Giving: On average, wealthy Americans (annual income of $150,000 or more) give away 1.9 percent of their annual income.49

  2. Under $300,000: American families making under $300,000 a year give away roughly 2.3 percent of their incomes.50

  3. Over $300,000: American families making over $300,000 a year give away roughly 4.4 percent of their incomes.50

  4. Importance of Religion: Nearly equal percentages of both the wealthy and general population rated their spiritual or religious beliefs as important for their charitable giving (36 and 37 percent, respectively).12

  5. Reasons for Giving: In 2001, more than half of wealthy people (54 percent) said tax benefits induce them to give, but these considerations did not outweigh the importance of feeling strongly about a cause (74 percent).12

  6. Giving Back: Fifty percent of the wealthy feel an obligation to give back to their communities.13

  7. Giving to Religious Causes: In 2001, fewer than half of wealthy Americans said religion was an important contributor to their happiness, yet statistically equivalent percentages of wealthy Americans and all Americans reported giving to religious causes.13

  8. Actual versus Potential Donation: On average, an American household with a salary of $924,495 with an investment asset of $18,125,000 gave $122,940 to charity in 2000—but had the potential to donate up to $1,031,000 without any change in standard of living.6

  9. Tithing and Income: “In general, the more money a person makes the less likely he/she is to tithe. While 8 percent of those making $20,000 or less gave at least 10 percent of their income to churches, that proportion dropped to 5 percent among those in the $20,000-$29,999 and $30,000-$39,999 categories; to 4 percent among those in the $40,000-$59,999 range, down to 2 percent for those in the $60,000-$74,999 niche; and to 1 percent for those making $75,000-$99,999. The level jumped a bit for those making $100,000 or more, as 5 percent of the most affluent group tithed in 1999.”21

  10. Giving by Class: The two groups in the United States that give the highest percentages of their income are the poor (those making less than $20,000 per year) and the rich (those making more than $100,000 per year). Middle-class Americans (those making between $40,000 and $100,000 per year) are the smallest percentage givers.11

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Charitable Giving (American Middle Class)
  1. Middle-Class Giving: Middle-class Americans give away from 1.2% to 1.4% of their annual incomes.49

  2. Giving by Class: The two groups in the United States that give the highest percentages of their income are the poor (those making less than $20,000 per year) and the rich (those making more than $100,000 per year). Middle-class Americans (those making between $40,000 and $100,000 per year) are the smallest percentage givers.11

  3. Tithing and Income: “In general, the more money a person makes the less likely he/she is to tithe. While 8 percent of those making $20,000 or less gave at least 10 percent of their income to churches, that proportion dropped to 5 percent among those in the $20,000-$29,999 and $30,000-$39,999 categories; to 4 percent among those in the $40,000-$59,999 range, down to 2 percent for those in the $60,000-$74,999 niche; and to 1 percent for those making $75,000-$99,999. The level jumped a bit for those making $100,000 or more, as 5 percent of the most affluent group tithed in 1999.”21

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Charitable Giving (American Poor)
  1. Giving by Class: The two groups in the United States that give the highest percentages of their income are the poor (those making less than $20,000 per year) and the rich (those making more than $100,000 per year). Middle-class Americans (those making between $40,000 and $100,000 per year) are the smallest percentage givers.11

  2. Tithing and Income: “In general, the more money a person makes the less likely he/she is to tithe. While 8 percent of those making $20,000 or less gave at least 10 percent of their income to churches, that proportion dropped to 5 percent among those in the $20,000-$29,999 and $30,000-$39,999 categories; to 4 percent among those in the $40,000-$59,999 range, down to 2 percent for those in the $60,000-$74,999 niche; and to 1 percent for those making $75,000-$99,999. The level jumped a bit for those making $100,000 or more, as 5 percent of the most affluent group tithed in 1999.”21

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Charitable Giving (American Blacks)
  1. Charity and Churches: Fifty-three percent of all black households give to charity, and 59 percent of their donations go to churches and other religious purposes.25

  2. Discretionary Income: Black people give 25 percent more of their discretionary income to charity than do others. For instance, black people who make between $30,000 and $50,000 give an average of $528 annually, compared with $462 donated by their white counterparts in the same income range.2

  3. Giving to Church: Nine of every $10 donated by black people goes to churches or religious groups.”2

  4. Total Percentage to Church: Black Protestants give about 2.5 percent of their incomes to the church.28

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Charitable Giving (American Latinos/Hispanics)
  1. Fewer Donations: Both white and black adults donated more than twice as much per capita as did Hispanic adults ($1218 by whites, $1094 by blacks, $528 by Hispanics).8

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Charitable Giving (American Jews)
  1. Billions Given: In America, contributions from Jewish philanthropists reached nearly $2 billion in 1998.37

  2. No Comprehensive Study: According to Gary Tobin, director of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, there is no comprehensive study of Jewish philanthropy to compare Jewish giving, whether to synagogues or for other purposes, to general American giving.20

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Charitable Giving (American Churchgoers)
  1. Potential for Giving: If historically Christian church members had given 10 percent of their income to the Church in 2004, it would have added up to an additional $164 billion.51

  2. Church and Charity: The average church member in 2004 gave $643.67 to his congregation and $111.16 to other charitable organizations.52

  3. Christian Wealth and World Poverty: On average, American Christians enjoy an annual household income of $42,409, while 1.2 billion of the world’s poorest people must survive on $1 a day.53

  4. Giving to Religious Groups: Americans gave an estimated $93.18 billion to religious organizations in 2005, an increase of 2.5 percent (when adjusted for inflation).41

  5. Lower Average Donation: Among adults who gave cash contributions to local churches in 2001, the average donation was $649, down from the estimated $806 in 1999.14

  6. Lower Giving Since 1950s: In the latter half of the 20th century, the highest average annual rate of growth in per-member giving in inflation-adjusted dollars was the period from 1995 to 2000. However, when the increase in dollars given was considered as a portion of U.S. average annual income increase, the highest rate of increased giving was the period from 1950 to 1955, followed by 1955 to 1960.15

  7. Few Support the Church: Only one-third to one-half of U.S. church members financially support their churches.16

  8. Religious Donations: More than $60 billion a year is donated to religious nonprofit organizations. The vast bulk of that sum—more that $40 billion annually—goes directly to churches, almost all of it from individuals.17

  9. Donations by Month: In a typical month, six out of every 10 U.S. adults donates money to a church or other nonprofit organization; three-fourths of all adults do so during the typical year. Twenty-six percent of adults who give money to a church also donated funds to religious nonprofits other than a church.18

  10. Christians Not Giving: Among adults who attend church regularly, (an average of a least once a month), 37 percent did not give any money to a church in 1996.18

  11. Donating over Tithing: Overall, only 3 to 5 percent of those who donate money to a church tithe (give 10 percent of) their incomes.18

  12. Overspending: Forty percent of church members say they overspend monthly; also, 40 percent of church members pay more than $2,000 a year in interest, not including their mortgage.16

  13. Pledging and Giving: People who pledge give three times as much as those who don’t.16

  14. Average Gift Below Tithe: On average, evangelicals give about 2/5 of a tithe.53

  15. Sacred and Secular: Households that give to both religious congregations and secular organizations give over three times ($2,247) more than do households that give to only secular organizations ($623).27

  16. Low Percent Gives High Percent: Religious observers (only 38 percent of all Americans) give two-thirds of all charitable dollars in the United States. (The Gallup Organization)

  17. Religious People Give More: Religious observers (those who attend weekly services) give 3.4 percent of income annually, while nonreligious people give only 1.1 percent to 1.4 percent. (The Gallup Organization)

  18. Giving to Churches: Among evangelicals, almost 90 cents of every donated dollar goes to their churches. The proportion drops, however, as people’s spiritual intensity and commitment to Christ decline.8

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Charitable Giving (American Catholics)
  1. Sunday School: The average total Sunday collection for Roman Catholic churches in America is $5.5 billion per week.29

  2. Sunday Collections: In 1991 current dollars, an estimate of the per-member (i.e. full or confirmed) giving level for Catholics specifically to Sunday collections was $123.29

  3. Clergy Compensation: In 1991, the average Catholic household contribution to clergy compensation was $28.29

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Charitable Giving (American Protestants)
  1. Average Donation: The average donation by adults who attend Protestant churches is about $17 a week.36

  2. Donations by Denomination: Among the 10 largest denominations in the United States, those whose churches receive support from the highest percentage of adherents are Presbyterian, Assemblies of God and Churches of Christ. The denominational churches that had the lowest proportions of attendees donating to the church were Episcopal, Pentecostal, and Baptist.23

  3. Giving Less Than in the Depression: Among church members of 11 primary Protestant denominations (or their historical antecedents) in the United States and Canada, per-member giving as a percentage of income was lower in 2000 than in either 1921 or 1933. In 1921, per-member giving as a percentage of income was 2.9 percent. In 1933, at the depth of the Great Depression, per-member giving grew to 3.3 percent. By 2000, per-member giving as a percentage of income had fallen to 2.6 percent.24

  4. Protestants and Catholics: In 2001, Protestants in the United States donated an average of $1,093 to their churches in 2001. That figure was more than double the average amount given by Catholics to their churches, $495.8

  5. Protestants Give More: In 2001, Protestants in the United States gave away an average of 57 percent more money to nonprofit organizations than did their Catholic counterparts—$1,379 compared to $878.8

  6. The Great Depression and Today: In 1933, the worst year of the Great Depression, per capita income was at the lowest point it would reach between 1921 and 2000, whether measured in current or inflation-adjusted dollars. Yet per member giving among the 11 primary Protestant denominations (or their historical antecedents) in the United States and Canada as a percentage of income was 3.3 percent. In all the prosperity of 2000, per member giving was only 2.6 percent.15

  7. Posthumous Giving: Four out of 10 U.S. Protestant churches in 1994 said they were receiving money from wills, trusts, estates and other financial legacies.26

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Charitable Giving (American Evangelicals)
  1. Most Likely to Tithe: 23 percent of evangelical Christians tithe, making them the most likely demographic group to do so.54

  2. Income Up, Giving Down: In 2001 members of evangelical churches gave away on average 4.27 percent of their income, down from 4.74 percent in 1985 and 6.15 percent in 1968, though annual household income has been steadily rising since 1968 (even when adjusted for inflation.53

  3. Giving Less Than the Tithe: On average, evangelicals give about 2/5 of a tithe.53

  4. Few Tithe: In 2002, using a narrow definition of “evangelical,” a Barna poll found that only 9 percent of evangelicals tithed.53

  5. Giving to Churches: Among evangelicals, almost 90 cents of every donated dollar goes to their churches. The proportion drops, however, as people’s spiritual intensity and commitment to Christ decline.8

  6. Comparitively High Giving: In 2001 evangelicals gave a mean of $3,601 per capita to nonprofit organizations, which is high when compared to other demographic groups.8

  7. Evangelicals More Generous: In 2001, evangelicals gave four times as much, per person, to churches as did all other church donors in 2001. Eighty-eight percent of evangelicals and 73 percent of Protestants donated to churches.8

  8. More Likely to Tithe: In 2001, the proportion of tithers was higher among born-again Christians (14 percent tithed) than among non-born-again adults (5 percent).8

  9. Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants: From 1968 to 2000, members of evangelical Protestant denominations gave larger dollar amounts and larger portions of income to their churches than did members of mainline Protestant denominations.22

  10. Decline in Per-Person Giving: Per-person evangelical giving in 2000 (measured in total dollars contributed) was down 16 percent from the previous year.30

  11. Income versus Net Worth: Ninety-six percent of evangelical giving is given out of income, and only 4 percent is given out of net worth. (Ron Blue & Co.)

  12. Measuring from Per-Capita Giving: Barna Research Group, key tracker of U.S. cultural and religious trends, states that it has not measured aggregate giving by American evangelicals, and that this total would have to be estimated from per-capita giving.34

  13. Missions: In foreign ministry and missions, evangelical parachurch agencies raise $1.5 billion per year, while evangelical denominations raise another $1 billion. Mainline denominations and the independent agencies associated with them together raise less than $500 million.35

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Charitable Giving (African Christians)
  1. The Poor Most Likely to Give: “In both Malawi and Tanzania church leaders report that the poorer synods are the most likely to support their own programs and pastors. They may be peasant farmers who give their offerings in the form of cattle, bags of maize, or other produce. At the same time, the wealthier synods of the same churches remain dependent on overseas funding.”38

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Charitable Giving (Asian Churchgoers)
  1. Reasons for High Giving: Philanthropists have noted that in the Philippines there is “the propensity to help each other as well as the church. While not formally imposed as a tithe, giving to the church is nevertheless an ingrained obligation that continues to dominate people’s giving behavior to institutions. One astute observer noted that the church’s long tradition of trust with its community is one of the main reasons for high giving to the church. While this appears to be a prevalent behavior, the amounts involved are modest, on average.”39

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Charitable Giving (World Churchgoers)
  1. Giving to All Causes: In 2000, church members worldwide gave $297.6 billion to all causes. This included $27.1 billion to secular causes and $270.5 billion to Christian causes.19

  2. Giving to Churches: In 2000, church members worldwide gave $107.9 billion to churches and denominations and $162.6 billion to parachurch agencies.19

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Charitable Giving (World Evangelicals)
  1. Yearly Giving: Worldwide, evangelical Christians give approximately $181 billion per year.32

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1 What Request Medium Do Donors Respond to Best?, DonorSpeak Newsletter (August 2003).
2 Jacinthia Jones, Charities, Churches, Causes Benefit from Generosity, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., May 29, 2003.
5 AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy, Giving USA 2002: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2001, researched and written at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (Indianapolis: Author, 2002), 67.
6 NewTithing Group, Affordable Donations, San Francisco: Author, 2002.
7 Independent Sector, The New Profit Almanac in Brief: Facts and Figures on the Independent Sector (Washington: Author, 2001), 3.
8 George Barna, Americans Were More Generous in 2001 Than in 2000, news release by Barna Research Group, April 9, 2002.
9 George Barna, Barna Research Archives: Teenagers (Barna Research Group).
11 Tim Stafford, The Anatomy of a Giver: American Christians Are the Nation’s Most Generous Givers, but We Aren’t Exactly Sacrificing, Christianity Today, May 19, 1997.
12 AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy (2002), 61.
13 AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy (2002), 60.
14 AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy (2002), 101.
15 John L. Ronsvalle and Sylvia Ronsvalle, The State of Church Giving through 2000 (Champaign, Ill.: Empty Tomb, 2002), 33.
16 The United Methodist Foundation of Los Angeles, Money and Religion, rpt. in Lifestyle Stewardship: Learning the Freedom of Generous Giving, Alliance Life (January 2001), 13.
17 AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy, Giving USA 1996: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 1995, researched and written at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (Indianapolis: Author, 1996), quoted in George Barna, How to Increase Giving in Your Church: A Practical Guide to the Sensitive Task of Raising Money for Your Church or Ministry (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1997), 20.
18 George Barna, How to Increase Giving in Your Church: A Practical Guide to the Sensitive Task of Raising Money for Your Church or Ministry (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1997), 20.
19 David B. Barrett and Todd M. Johnson, World Christian Trends AD 30-AD 2000: Interpreting the Annual Christian Megacensus (Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 2001), 655.
20 AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy (2002), 102.
21 George Barna, Evangelicals Are the Most Generous Givers, But Fewer than 10 Percent of Born Again Christians Give 10 Percent to Their Church, news release by Barna Research Group, April 5, 2000.
22 Ronsvalle, 23.
23 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches (1996), quoted in George Barna, How to Increase Giving in Your Church: A Practical Guide to the Sensitive Task of Raising Money for Your Church or Ministry (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1997), 20.
24 Ronsvalle, 40.
25 James Prichard, Philanthropy Growing among People of Color, The Detroit News, January 13, 2001.
26 George Barna, Barna Research Archives: Stewardship (Barna Research Group).
27 Independent Sector, Faith and Philanthropy: The Connection Between Charitable Behavior and Giving to Religion, Giving and Volunteering in the United States Signature Series (Washington: Author, 2002), 11.
28 Julia McCord, Contributions to Churches Vary, Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, April 23, 2000.
29 John Ronsvalle and Sylvia Ronsvalle, An Exploration of Roman Catholic Giving Patterns, chap. in The State of Church Giving through 1993. Champaign, Ill.: Empty Tomb, 1995.
30 George Barna, Churches Lose Financial Ground in 2000, news release by Barna Research Group, June 5, 2001.
31 AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy, Giving USA 2003: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2002, researched and written at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University (Indianapolis: Author, 2003), 23.
32 Misc. Facts and Interesting Information (Houston: ServLife International, n.d.).
33 George Barna, Tithing Down 62% in the Past Year, news release by Barna Research Group, May 19, 2003.
34 George Barna, Ventura, Calif., to Generous Giving, Chattanooga, Tenn., June 12, 2004.
35 Michael S. Hamilton, We’re in the Money! How Did Evangelicals Get So Wealthy, and What Has It Done to Us?, Christianity Today, June 12, 2000.
36 George Barna, How to Increase Giving in Your Church: A Practical Guide to the Sensitive Task of Raising Money for Your Church or Ministry (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1997), 20.
37 Charles Schusterman, How Donor Directed Giving Impacts Jewish Philanthropy, speech delivered at the meeting of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation Advisory Council, Cleveland, Ohio, October 27, 1998.
38 Glenn Schwartz, It’s Time to Get Serious about the Cycle of Dependency in Africa, Evangelical Missions Quarterly (April 1993); rpt. Mission Frontiers (January/February 1997).
39 Venture for Fund Raising Foundation, Investing in Ourselves: Giving and Fund Raising in the Philippines (Pasig City, Philippines: The Author, 2001).
40 George Barna, Twentysomethings Struggle to Find Their Place in Christian Churches, News release by Barna Research Group, September 24, 2003.
41 Giving USA 2006: The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 2005. Giving USA Foundation: AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy (researched and written at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University). 51st annual issue. Indianapolis: Author, 2006, 41.
42 Giving USA 2006, 42.
43 Giving USA 2006. 43.
44 Giving USA 2006, 44.
45 Giving USA 2006, 45.
46 Giving USA 2006, 47.
47 Giving USA 2006, 48.
48 Giving USA 2006, 74.
49 Ronsvalle, John L. and Sylvia. The State of Church Giving through 2004: Will We Will? 16th ed. Champaign, Ill.: Empty Tomb, 2006, 93.
50 John J. Havens, et al. “Charitable Giving: How Much, by Whom, to What, and How?” The Non-Profit Sector: A Research Handbook, Yale Press, 2006, pg. 546.
51 Ronsvalle, 53.
52 Ronsvalle, 16.
53 Sider, Ronald. The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Books and Culture. January 1, 2005.
54 “Americans Donate Billions to Charities, but Giving to Churches has Declined.” The Barna Group, Ltd. California. April 25, 2005.
55 Giving USA 2006, 19.
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