2020 giving trends for churches and religious charities based on ECFA survey.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Finding data on prior year contribution trends early enough in the year to have analytical value in a review or audit has long been a challenge. Usable data for 2020 is now available in March. This is current enough to allow leaders in churches and ministries analyze the 2020 financial results in time for it to be actionable.

Throughout the pandemic the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) has been conducting quarterly surveys of its members. Lots of data has been gathered and processed.

On 3/4/21, ECFA published the results of their survey of full year 2020 revenue and expense trends compared to 2019. They have graciously made the results of the survey available for free. You can find it on this page of Feature Surveys. Click on the “Free Download” button beneath the Remarkable Resilience survey report dated March 2021.

The survey is based on responses from 559 churches and 730 religious nonprofits. That is a total of 1,289 responses. ECFA has lots of subsectors for its membership. For those sectors with 20 or more responses, the survey aggregates and reports results.

Who would benefit from looking at this survey? Two groups.

First, finance teams and senior leadership of churches and religious nonprofits to see financial results for 2020 of a large group of their peers. This provides an incredible opportunity to see how other organizations are doing.

Second, CPAs performing reviews or audits of churches religious not-for-profit organizations can easily find industrywide information to use as a benchmark. As mentioned earlier, financial information is usually published long after most of the reviews and audits have been released. It is rare I can find anything that is actually usable.

High-level results from the ECFA survey are summarized into three broad categories:


One report indicates overall charitable giving is up for the first half of 2020.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

This is the first report I have seen on overall giving trends during the pandemic. Preliminary indications are giving was down in the first quarter but strong enough in the second quarter that year-to-date giving is up compared to prior year.

10/6/20 – Philanthropy Today – Giving Was Up 7.5% in the First Half of 2020, New Report Says.


Economic damage from pandemic is severe and will continue to be severe.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

We are starting to see some guesses about the economic damage from the shutdowns driven by the pandemic.

When you read about the 10 million people who have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks and consider there will be millions more and the unemployment will continue for another month or two, ponder the ripple effects.

That shock of unemployment translates into cars not purchased, summer & Christmas vacations not taken, conferences not attended, college enrollment delayed a year, fancy wedding receptions never planned, and house renovations postponed by a decade.

(Cross posted from my other blog, Attestation Update.)

4/5/20 – Wall Street Journal – State Shutdowns Have Taken at Least a Quarter of U.S. Economy Offline – Study by Moody’s Analytics estimates that 29% of the U.S. economy has shut down. That is the estimated drop in output we have already seen.

Some of the staggeringly dangerous hits to U.S. output and wealth:


Pondering impact of coronavirus prevention steps on a charity’s financial statements. An auditor’s perspective.

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

If you are on the finance team of a not-for-profit organization and have a December 31 year end, you are likely working with your CPA on the annual financial statements. Or, you may have just released your financials to lenders and donors.

If so, very soon your CPA may be having an uncomfortable conversation about what we CPAs call ‘subsequent events.’ Those are things that happen after the end of the year and are so significant that the events might need to be disclosed in the financial statements.

In the last week or so, major sectors of the U.S. economy have been shut down for the immediate future.  These actions will have a radical impact on certain industries and a mere dramatic impact on other industries. There may be direct impact on many charities, (such as performing arts companies, or conference centers). There will likely be indirect ripple effects on lots more charities.

To help you ponder the possible impact on your organization, read the following comments. The discussion is focused on other industries, but consider whether the broad trend might affect your charity.


Contributions to ECFA members grew 2.2% in 2015, compared to 5.0% growth in 2014

Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

ECFA has announced their 2016 State of Giving Report. Based on data from 1,816 member organizations, cash contributions in 2015 grew 2.2% year over year. Noncash giving grew by 7.5%.

Illustrating the diversity of the nonprofit community, the changes for 27 different sectors are listed separately. A few highlights for the 2015 and 2014 change:


Portion of churches with revenue greater than expenses

Superb infograph shows percentage of churches whose income is greater than their expenses.

Lesson I draw from the graph:  Recovery from the Great Recession has been slow for churches. Many churches are still struggling. Those are the results I would expect to see.

Visit Church Law & Tax extract from their March 2015 edition of Church Finance Today: Percentage of Churches with Income Exceeding Expenses their analysis is broken out into nine different regions of the United States.

A few pieces of information:


Report says overall charitable giving in the US grew 5.4% in 2014

Indiana University’s report estimates overall charitable giving was up 5.4% in 2014. Total giving has recovered since the recession and has now has surpassed the previous high points in 2007 and 2005.

Chronicle of Philanthropy has more: Philanthropy Surges 5.4% to Record $358 Billion, Says “Giving USA”.


Preliminary indications are contributions to ECFA members grew about 6% in 2014

ECFA has announced preliminary results of their 2015 State of the Giving Report. First indications are based on 600 member organizations who have renewed through January 31st.

Cash contributions grew 5.9% year over year. Total revenue grew by 4.2%.

Final results expected in October.

Decline in construction of new churches

Here is the millions of square feet of new construction and additions for religious buildings (approximated):

  • 28M – ’90 and ‘91
  • 42M – ‘97
  • 52M – ’02, with a rapid decline to
  • 25M – ’09, then falling off a cliff
  • 15M – ’10, with a slower drop to
  • 10M – ’14 est

Those are my estimates from a graph in the Wall Street Journal article, Decline in Church-Building Reflects Changed Tastes and Times.

Article says the estimated 10.3M square feet in 2014 is down 6% for the year and down 80% from the peak in 2002.

Several factors are cited in the article for the drop in construction. (more…)

2013 giving trends

It always takes a while to gather all the info needed to calculate giving trends, so the information often starts to feel stale. However, here are some tidbits from a Nonprofit Times article – Americans Feeling Better, Giving More.

The Giving USA Foundation research for 2013 shows giving increased in 2013 by about 3% on an inflation-adjusted basis.

Individual giving was up 4.2% in total, which is 2.7% after an inflation adjustment. That represents 72% of total giving.

Lesson learned, according to the article?  (more…)

Giving to ECFA members increased in 2013

Preliminary data provided during early renewals of ECFA members indicate that cash contributions increased 5.2% in 2013 with total revenue increasing 6.5%

Those are the results from the first 700 members renewing for 2013, according to the ECFA’s article Giving Remains on the Rise to ECFA Members. That would be renewal info arriving in January 2014.

Full report expected in October.

Portion of telemarketing proceeds retained by charities in Michigan

Previously mentioned that in 2012 California charities retained 37% of the total proceeds raised by telemarketing firms. In New York, the percentage going to the charities was 38%.

The Michigan Attorney General released their report on telemarketing campaigns in the state for 2013 –  


Guest Post – Cash Conversion Cycle of Donors

Mr. Jeff Beaumont is a CPA working for a firm that focuses on serving the nonprofit community. His opinions are his own and do not reflect the opinions or positions of his firm in any way. Because he speaks for himself, I won’t identify him or his firm in any more detail. He doesn’t speak for me either.

He has about seven years experience as an auditor working on the issues discussed on this blog.

By Jeff Beaumont, CPA

Would it be helpful to more thoroughly understand incoming church attendees, their giving, and if they feel accepted, welcomed, and a part of the local church family? This post will explore analyzing how long it takes for someone to give as a means to understand the newcomers.

About tracking trends, there are some considerations we need to ponder. When someone first shows up at church, they rarely give the first day. If they do give, they rarely would give their “normal” amount unless they felt part of the church, as if they had some sort of relationship or ownership.