Transformation, collaboration, and the future of Christian giving

The landscape of Christian generosity is changing. People are getting more creative, and new opportunities are arising. We want to stay at the forefront when it comes to how Christians give. So, NCF commissioned a research study – one of the largest of its kind ever conducted on generosity.

We did this because we believe there is much to learn about what motivates people to give, how they want to give, what impact they want to have on the causes that are important to them, and what they hope to get from their giving.

One of the clearest finding that emerged from the research was how Christian givers think and feel about the connected pursuits of transformation and collaboration.

Radical, biblical generosity

The Gospel of Luke gives us one of the most radical examples of transformation in the whole Bible – the story of Zacchaeus. From swindler to a son of God in one day, this wealthy man began his faith journey by righting all his financial wrongs and immediately giving away far more than the law required of him … the very same day he climbed down from a tree and began to follow Jesus (Luke 19).

Unlike Zacchaeus, however, most people aren’t transformed so quickly in the way they think about their finances. It takes time and study to come to an understanding of God’s view of money – and even longer for that understanding to sink in and bring about changes in thinking and behavior. It is not easy for people to let go of the idea that what they’ve worked for is not their own.

Yet, at NCF, we have seen people radically transformed by a growing understanding that everything belongs to God. Over time, they have found a kind of freedom and an overwhelming joy they had not found in any other experience but giving. So, in our research, we asked people if they sought out this kind of transformation and in what environments they found it. What we found was that, though transformation requires a very personal heart change, it is often discovered through engagement with a generous community.

Transformation and community

We learned from previous research that a first step for many in the process of transformation is a growing belief that God owns everything. This often begins when people see or hear about the impact generosity has had on their friends or family members. They become expectant that giving will transform their lives too.

Transformation-oriented givers want:

  • Connection with a broader network of Christian givers
  • Sharing of knowledge with others
  • Increased impact through collaboration
  • Generosity as discipleship

Our research confirmed there are common threads among generous Christians. An overwhelming majority of Christian givers we surveyed (65 percent) say they are seeking more than a transactional experience. They hope their giving will transform their lives and that it might even become a tool for discipleship within their families. This number is even higher among women (71 percent) and people with children under 18 living at home (also 71 percent).

When we asked givers to elaborate on transformational giving, a wider picture began to emerge. Most Christian givers say they believe transformation happens better in community.

The power of collaboration

Many Christian givers say they seek giving collaborations to inspire, encourage, and shape them, especially when it comes to dealing with the difficult issues of wealth and legacy. They also seek collaboration for knowledge sharing and strategies for giving. They want to pool their resources with others to have a greater impact on the causes they care about. Together, givers want to solve problems, share insights, and build friendships within like-minded communities.

These givers want churches, ministries, and other nonprofits to seek out collaborations that will multiply their impact too. While givers of many ages expressed their desire to work with others, we saw that interest in collaboration was strongest among Christians younger than 44 years old (87 percent versus 75 percent of givers 45 years and older).

What we’ve already seen?

We are encouraged to see givers already reaching out to form these types of collaborative groups. From simple giving circles to strategic philanthropic alliances, these groups take various forms and serve a wide variety of purposes.

We have seen large foundations inviting others to partner with them as they gain expertise they can share. We’ve seen a group of givers supporting a collective of charities to take on the evangelism of a whole country. In Florida, we’ve witnessed a group of community leaders, Christian business leaders, and residents working to rebuild old neighborhoods, which had been destroyed by decades of racism and neglect. We serve givers in Washington, Colorado, and Florida collaborating to raise the bar on fighting human trafficking, and at least 500 generous givers are pooling their money and working together with experts to get the gospel to the ends of the earth.

What does this mean for the future of Christian giving?

All of these groups have arisen because someone sought God for what he wanted them to do or saw a problem and decided to do something about it. Most developed organically in response to a need. The future of Christian giving will likely involve more grassroots groups like these, joining together to encourage one another, to find purpose, and to make a greater impact on the world.

Our research showed us that the future may be shaped by the desire for charities and other nonprofits to work cooperatively too. This may not be just what givers want; it may become an expectation.

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