Bell Curves and Giving

Here’s an interesting stat: the most generous age bracket in any church are 50-somethings.

  • College for the kids is done and paid for
  • The kids’ weddings are over
  • The mortgage is low because they got it several decades ago (if they even have a first mortgage)
  • They are in middle to upper management at work making really good money
  • In short, their expenses are low and their income is high which means they’ve got more disposable income than other age brackets.

What about the other decade age brackets regarding their charitable gifts? Here’s my analysis of them:

  • 20-somethings are just getting started financially. Many have serious college debt, most are not ready to settle down with a spouse (much less kids), and their income is on the low side since they are just beginning their careers.
  • 30-somethings have begun to settle down with families and careers but they are financially strapped because of the mortgage, cars, retirement planning, new furniture for the home and kids, etc. They’ll give, but it will be usually from their financial leftovers. A few are giving more and more but they are the exceptions.
  • 40-somethings are well into their careers and an impressive number have even risen to upper management already. Many have figured out a financial strategy and are able to give surprising amounts. Others want to give but can’t, right now.
  • 50-somethings are the main givers to every church. Not every 50-something is a big giver but the preponderance of them give more than at any other time in their lives. They’ve reached the age when they want to live for significance, not success.
  • 60-somethings have retirement looming over them and their giving begins to decrease, sometimes rather sharply. Some 60-somethings have to keep working while others are planning comfortable retirements. However, in every case, they are beginning to ask the question that 70-somethings ask every day.
  • 70-somethings wonder “Am I going to outlive my money?” and that causes their charitable giving to drop off a cliff. Those with ample resources continue to give, but the ones with “just enough” cut their giving back significantly.
  • 80-somethings and beyond do not form a large giving base for two reasons: their numbers are smaller than other age brackets (and shrinking daily) and their financial resources are smaller than the other age brackets. An occasional 80-something will be a high-capacity giver, but most are hanging on by their financial fingernails.

How does this translate to a church?

  • At either end are the 20-somethings and 80-somethings: the goal is for the 20-somethings to be giving, per person, more than the 80-somethings. “More” is probably about 1.5 times.
  • Next are the 30-somethings and 70-somethings. In a healthy-giving church, the 30-somethings will be giving about twice what the average 70-something is giving, because giving by 70-somethings is plummeting.
  • The 40-somethings should be the second strongest age bracket in a church, and the third strongest should be 60-somethings. 40-somethings are the “left shoulder” of the bell curve and 60-somethings are the “right shoulder.” Strengthen that right shoulder as much as you can because in 10 years, they’ll be 50-somethings.
  • The peak of the bell curve is the 50-something crowd. Who are your 50-somethings today? Who coached them to give? What was their giving like 10 and even 20 years ago?  But wait, look at your church 10 and even 20 from now. Is estimated future giving by your current 30- and 40-somethings enough to replace what your current 50-somethings are doing? What are you doing long term to ensure that generosity becomes part of your church’s culture?

A church must be cultivating and encouraging generous giving with the 40- and 50-somethings. That should be the church’s main focus. Next should be the 30- and 60-somethings. Lastly, the 20-, 70- and 80-somethings should get the least financial emphasis focus, because they are in the weakest position to contribute to a church. By “cultivating and encouraging generous giving,” I mean that there should be a stewardship education plan for all groups but that those age brackets should get a bigger dose than other age brackets. Give them a second helping of generosity teaching; it will do them and you some good.

By the way, this analysis is true of annual giving (giving from your checkbook or income statement) but also of planned giving (giving from your estate or balance sheet). A church should encourage 40- and 50-somethings to put the church in their will. The 60-something and older crowd have typically already created a will (although the percentage of people without wills is shockingly high). Get some estate planning for 40-somethings and 50-somethings ASAP!

Lead On!