Economists have a selection of economic statistics that they examine to predict the future direction of the economy. Sometimes I wish the nonprofit sector had its own leading indicators to help nonprofit managers make future decisions. We are often stuck trying to predict the future by relying on second-hand information from the for-profit sector or on just gut feelings.
This past weekend, I had first-hand experience with a non-profit leading indicator while helping out on my sons’ Cub Scout food drive. It’s pretty apparent that the economy is starting to impact charitable giving. Every November, our Cub Scout pack canvasses the same neighborhood for canned food donations. This year, food donations were significantly down from the prior year. What is interesting is that this decline is in a community that has been minimally impacted by job losses or income declines. For most of our neighbors, their only experience with the recession has been with the decline in the value of their retirement accounts and exposure to media accounts of economic anxiety. Where irrational exuberance caused people to mindlessly invest in real estate and the stock market, irrational depression is now bringing about a pull back in charitable giving. At a time when food banks are seeing an increase in demand for food, people with the resources are pulling back from giving because of fear for the future. This same fear is spreading to church giving. I’ve heard of churches in our community now facing sudden and dramatic drops in giving. I know some people are financially hurting and that impacts giving. But for some, fear is driving the decision to give less.
It’s a tendency that followers of Christ need to fight…and the battle starts with our own giving habits. I remember my mother sharing stories of how her parents used to provide food for individuals in need during past times of economic troubles. We need to make every effort to keep our giving at the same rates as before. If our budget is tightening, we should try to get creative in saving money in other ways so that we can continue to help others. And as followers of Christ, God’s call on us might be to give more at a time when others are in greater need.