By Diane Stafford
The Kansas City Star
(MCT) — Religious organizations received 31 percent of the $335.17 billion worth of American philanthropy last year, by far the biggest slice of the charitable giving pie.
But that nonprofit sector shouldn't rest easy, says Patrick Rooney, chief researcher for the annual Giving USA report on philanthropy released this week. Religion's share of total donations has been steadily shrinking compared with other nonprofit sectors.
Rooney met with about 160 representatives from the Kansas City nonprofit community for a data dive into the distribution of 2013 donations. He noted that the recession, generational differences and political trends were changing the sources, amounts and distribution of charitable dollars.
Nationally, charitable giving rose about 3 percent from 2012, adjusted for inflation. At that recovery rate, it will be a least another year before total giving returns to its 2007 pre-recession peak, according to the report.
Meanwhile, researchers found that religion's receipts fell 2.4 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2009 and 2013 and that religion's overall share of philanthropic receipts has plummeted from its historic share of more than 50 percent of total giving.
"There's no single reason. It's the sum of many things, including that the institutional church is shrinking," said the Rev. Keith Hohly, a bishop's associate in the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Like many religious institutions, the Kansas City synod office is paying attention, Hohly said, to the rise of the "nones," the growing percentage of Americans who claim no religious affiliation in surveys. Many surveys indicate that young adults are less tied to organized religion and are shifting their philanthropy to other values or causes.
"People may still be giving money, but they've replaced 'church' with all kinds of other causes and organizations they care about," Hohly said.
The dip in church-related contributions didn't faze everyone in Rooney's audience Thursday at the Kauffman Foundation. Jonathan Harrison, vice president of giver services at the National Christian Foundation's Heartland affiliate, said contributions to his organization's donor funds grew from $170 million in 2010 to $223 million in 2013.
"We are certainly seeing the opposite," said Harrison, citing his donors' "high sense of urgency and passion" to give money to fuel such programs as the AdoptKC initiative focused on adoption and foster parenting.
But Harrison and other fundraisers at the event were in full agreement with other philanthropy concerns cited by Rooney. In particular, they're focused on when the charitable baton is passed from the baby boom to the millennial generation.
Rooney, associate dean for academic affairs and research at Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, said other charity sectors had recovered far better from the Great Recession and surpassed their record giving totals. The gainers in 2013 compared to 2007:
Education, up 8.5 percent.
Human services, up 17.5 percent.
Health, up 12.2 percent.
Foundations, up 1.3 percent.
Environmental and animal organizations, up 7.5 percent.