Report offers New Perspectives on Giving to Religion; Jewish Giving to Synagogues Appears Strong

By Robert Evans

A just-released report examining charitable giving to houses of worship and other entities supporting religion suggests that Jewish households “are more generous than other households of other religious affiliations” and also notes that “35 percent of Jewish giving is directed to religious entities.”

Giving to Religion: A Giving USA Special Report” follows the June publication of the annual Giving USA announcement that American charitable giving reached an all-time high in 2016 of $390.05 billion. Included in that figure is $122.94 billion for the religion category. In the aggregate, this is the highest level of giving ever recorded in the more than 60 years of the annual report and further suggests that America’s synagogues may not be doomed.

Included in the findings is a review of important characteristics of who gives, their motivations, and challenges to houses of worship in a period of declining attendance or affiliation.

The GUSA report is based on new data from the Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy Panel Study (PPS), which tracks more than 9,000 individuals’ and families’ giving and the dynamic practices that influence those practices. The PPS is the leading and most accurate resource for measuring U.S. household giving. The report presents a number of findings about the current state of religious giving, addresses unique challenges of measuring giving to religious causes, summarizes previous research, and provides conclusions about the state of the field.

The following are critical takeaways from the document:

  • Most studies agree that Jews give at higher dollar amounts than Catholic and Protestant Christians (but not as a share of income), but evangelical Protestants give at higher rates when compared to mainline Protestants.
  • The more frequently a household attends religious services, the greater likelihood that the household will make a donation to a religious institution and give in larger amounts; this cuts across all religions. Note, too, that households attending religious services weekly or more are 28 times more likely to give to religion compared to those who never attend.
  • Jewish households are more generous than households of other faiths in total giving.
  • Among donors to religion, Protestants give more to religion, with 68 percent of their giving directed for religion as compared to 35 percent of Jewish giving.
  • Among unaffiliated households who do make religious gifts, the annual gift totals $2,170, almost $800 more than the average annual religious donation made by Catholics.
  • Religious affiliation matters not only for religious institutions but also for philanthropy. In all cases measured, households with religious affiliation are much more charitable than those with no religious affiliations.
  • Increased giving to religion and to all causes accelerates as household income goes up. Not only does the percentage of givers increase with wealth but the average amount given to religion increases, too. For example, the average annual religious giving is $1,658 for households with a net worth of $50,000 or less while giving in households with a net worth of at least $250,000 is $1,960.
  • The report acknowledges that religious giving among all faiths increases as a result of advanced education.
  • 32 percent of single women donate to religion, while only 19 percent of single men do.
  • Demographic trends are relevant to examining giving to religion but advancing age corresponds to an increase in giving to religion. This report does indicate that younger generations do give to religion and do so at a rate similar to earlier generations.

The report on giving to religion represents an introduction to other analyses about the financial strength of synagogues to the American Jewish community. Several questions that require research and review are:

  • What is the role of clergy in the fundraising process?
  • How can seminaries use this research to update curriculum to reflect changes in giving habits by congregants?
  • What can be done to strengthen each synagogue’s culture of asking and culture of giving?
  • What internal practices need to change to give donors a better sense of comfort relating to good financial management and reporting?

Robert I. Evans is the founder and president of The Evans Consulting Group, a fundraising consulting firm now in its 26th year. He is a frequent contributor to Mr. Evans serves on the GUSA Foundation Board and as a member of the editorial review board for GUSA. Evans Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, leadership development, and nonprofit business practices and strategies. Learn more at