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Growing Generosity (Part 1)

I recently saw a tweet linking to a dozen charts depicting twelve wildly differing definitions of what it means to be “middle class” in the U.S. Unfortunately, I can’t find the tweet anymore. But nevertheless, here’s the takeaway: perceptions of personal wealth differ dramatically and many of those in the upper class by one definition understand themselves as middle class by another. Today’s post by Catherine Malotky enters into this discussion through the lens of generosity and giving. How do the “wealthy” give differently? What can congregations do to support their giving? This week, Catherine introduces the concept and, next week, she’ll cover particular giving mechanisms.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders

Growing Generosity (Part 1)

Rev. Catherine Malotky

It has been my experience that very few of us see ourselves as rich or wealthy. Studies on wealth have revealed that our perception of our own wealth is not very dependent on the dollar figures that quantify our financial reality. Instead, our perception of our own wealth is remarkably dependent on the apparent wealth of those with whom we spend time.

Perhaps you would be surprised, as I was, at this charitable giving definition:

A high net worth household =

  • an annual income of $200,000 or more, or
  • investments or other assets equaling $1 million or more.
    (Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, 2016)

Where do you land? Where do members of your congregation land? There are plenty of young adults working good, solid corporate jobs whose families might qualify on the income side, and there are plenty of older adults who had/have those kinds of jobs who qualify on the investment/assets side, since that side includes retirement assets. Many of us have, over a generation or two, or even just in our own lifetimes, become quantifiably wealthy, especially when comparing ourselves to global standards. A perception of ourselves as “not wealthy” is not confirmed on a growing number of our net worth statements.

It’s important to point out that there are plenty of people in our society who do not meet the definition of a high net worth household, and likely never will. Even a middle-class identity is something they may, at best, hope for their children or their children’s children. Think of those who may have immigrated, those who have lived in generational poverty, those whose color or sexual orientation continue to limit their economic appeal in overt and subtle ways, and those whose physical or cognitive capacities limit their ability to engage as wage-earners. In this discussion I’m not forgetting about these categories of God’s children, actually just the opposite. One of my driving hopes is that increased generosity will create a culture, at least within our faith communities, where the gifts of all are welcomed, resourced, and blessed to be a blessing.

Given this definition of “high net worth,” the tools and strategies for managing family resources that used to be reserved for the very wealthy are becoming more common among those of us who don’t consider ourselves wealthy. Our friends who work in fundraising and development know about these tools, but it is more and more true that those of us who are leaders in Christian communities need to know about them too. I’m not proposing that you become an expert, but that you know enough to be able to be helpful at best and at least be able to receive their gift, should they choose to use one of these tools.

We may have people in our congregations who have benefited from our economy’s intrinsic preferences and values. Many of them are quite aware that they have benefitted and want to be generous using the tools that work for them. If someone tells you they will be happy to give, but want to give appreciated stock, would you be ready to receive this gift? Would you know enough to help someone direct to your congregation a qualified charitable distribution from a traditional IRA? And would a member of your congregation be able to send a gift your way from a donor-advised fund?

Next week, we will look briefly at each of these increasingly common ways of giving, what they are, and how you might prepare your congregation or organization to receive gifts that come via these tools.

For More Information

Rev. Catherine Malotky serves as Grant and Project Manager for the Center for Stewardship Leaders. Before retiring from full-time work, she was the Director of Development at Luther Seminary, and prior to that was called as the Retirement Planning Manager at Portico where she trained as a life coach and earned the CRC®.

Rethinking Stewardship: Join us on July 25-27 for three days of conversation and exploration at Luther Seminary's Rethinking Stewardship: From Solemn Obligation to Inspired Choice. More information here.

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

"money-photo-8" image by Creative Commons licensing via Flickr.

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