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Study of giving levels offers some rays of hope for churches

impact of COVID-19 on Catholic giving

Villanova’s Center for Church Management investigated the impact of COVID-19 on Catholic giving levels

Using an anonymous, random sampling of giving data captured via ACS Technologies’ MissionInsite platform that’s used by more than one-third of Catholic parishes across the nation, the Center for Church Management at Villanova’s School of Business found some very interesting trends in giving levels pre-, during and post-pandemic. The results weren’t exactly what researchers expected to find.

Less are giving more

Attendance remains down post-pandemic, especially among younger demographics, so it stands to reason that giving levels would also be in a decline. On the contrary, the study found that giving has actually rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. The difference is that fewer people are giving more. In fact, annual per-person giving increased 24% in the first year of the pandemic from $1,295 to $1,603. 

The number of donors dropped 26% from 673,667 to 497,644 in the first six months of the pandemic. The number of donors rebounded slightly since 2020 but remains 16% below pre-pandemic levels. This poses a risk to the long-term sustainability of many parishes.

“People who were casually or less engaged prior to COVID became more so. Widespread church closures meant infrequent givers stopped attending Mass during COVID, and they haven’t returned. A base that’s shrinking significantly like that is scary from a sustainability point of view,” said Matt Manion, director of the Center for Church Management at Villanova Business School who conducted the study. “If your base is shrinking — and aging — that’s not a good sign for the future.”

Pre-pandemic giving levels have returned, sort of.

There’s a bit more positive news, though in that the 989 parishes across 43 states that were included in the study collected $891 million during the post-pandemic time period between April 2021 to March 2022, slightly up from $871 million collected during the same pre-pandemic timeframe. That’s trending in the right direction after a concerning dip in the first few months of the pandemic.

But, that might be where the silver lining begins to fade. Once you adjust for inflation, that $891 million is reduced to $766 million in 2019 dollars. That means parishes have 11% less spending power today than pre-pandemic.

Outreach is more important than ever.

The study clearly shows that there are giving trends worth celebrating. Despite the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 presented across all areas of the country, church members remained generous in giving. Chances are absentee members and lapsed donors miss being active participants in their church and faith journey. They may just need a nudge in the right direction. A personalized, individual approach to outreach can go a long way to re-engage these parishioners. Yes, it’s time-consuming, but the long-term impact is undeniable. Sustainability depends on engaging new and lapsed members.

Similarly, outreach and gestures of gratitude showing appreciation to those donors who sustained or increased their giving levels is a must. There’s a lot of competition for dollars so being able to demonstrate good stewardship can help maintain or continue to increase those giving levels. Let your donors know — frequently — how their generosity is appreciated and how it has enabled the mission to move forward.

Communication plus online or mobile giving is key.

We all want people back in the church to worship and pray together, but it’s going to take time and perseverance. Communicating what’s happening in the parish and making it easy for people to give is critical. ACS Technologies can help strategize and implement sound methods to increase giving.

“Church Leaders may be wondering how to move forward, increase the number of donors and strengthen their overall financial health — our expertise and years of data can be leveraged to develop personalized solutions for each and every church’s needs,” said Terry Poplava, Director Strategic Expertise at ACS Technologies.

Want to learn more about the results of this study? Attend our upcoming webinar, where we’ll take a deep dive into the findings and translate what they mean to church leaders.

ACS Technologies can help identify and implement strategies to increase offertory. Let us help get your parish back on the road to financial health. As parishes navigate this challenging financial landscape, it’s important to remember that they are not alone. There are resources available to help them overcome the squeeze of inflation.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023, 1:00-1:45 PM EST

Host: Terry Poplava

Director, Strategic Expertise

ACS Technologies

Guest: Matt Manion

Director, Center for Church Management

Villanova School of Business

Generosity and its overall decline, its need for communication, and its important stewardship role are one of the acute issues facing the church today.

To help your church in this area, here are some key resources:

For over 43 years, ACS Technologies has been helping churches address and overcome the obstacles they face, as they strive to Build the Kingdom. Staff administration was first. Then broader community engagement. Today we’re helping with the urgent issue of cultural intelligence. People have left  the church, there is a decline in generosity, and generational attitudes towards the church differ immensely. 

Our expertise through understanding the data and in-depth research is revealing and empowering to churches of all sizes who want to validate their efforts today to secure their promise of tomorrow. We walk alongside you. Enabling everyone in your church with a personalized ministry environment of tools, support and expertise so they can make actionable  ministry decisions. This whole church approach focused on each role within each ministry goal is powerfully unique and eternally invaluable. 

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