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The end of “one size fits all”: Cultural influences in church giving

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Archives / 2019 / June



The end of “one size fits all”: Cultural influences in church giving

Lilya Wagner

Lilya Wagner, EdD, CFRE, is the director of the Philanthropic Service for Institutions, North American Division, Columbia, Maryland, United States.


It is more blessed to give than to receive” is a Bible text in Acts 20:35 that we have heard often quoted, whether from parents urging their children to share, fundraisers presenting their appeal to donors, or pastors urging their congregations to contribute to the offering plate.1 Research conducted by prestigious universities and research centers has proven that those who are generous will be happier, healthier, and live longer.2

So, on an individual basis, it is beneficial to be generous. And from an organizational standpoint, religion and generosity go hand in hand, as stated by Mark Rovner: “Religion and faith are both drivers and indicators of giving. Religious organizations capture a significant proportion of all money donated. Moreover, donors who report being actively engaged in a faith community are more likely to give—and to give more—to the full spectrum of nonprofits and causes.”3

Churches that embrace and encourage generosity regularly experience benefits. However, should church leaders approach giving in the same vein as advertisers of “one size fits all” products? If they did, many opportunities might be passed over for including diverse populations.

As regions of the world have grown increasingly more diverse, congregations and their leaders often—and unfortunately—overlook the fundamental differences in how generosity is approached and practiced within the cultures of the church members. Religion has often served as the basis for philanthropic development in any given country, but sometimes we forget to go back to those foundations and develop an awareness and understanding of the specific preferences and practices from countries of origin.

Defining culture is a complex task. To summarize, it might be best to say that culture is to a group what personality is to an individual. Church leaders who follow the example of Jesus should be known as those who embrace, value, and encourage diversity in their organizations more than anyone else, yet sometimes leaders are culturally challenged or may find it too much of an effort to address and include the cultural differences that members of their church, would-be members, or even community members bring to their context. Admittedly it may not be easy because differences can be misunderstood and lead to conflict. But perhaps these following steps can help in moving ahead in increments until a level of comfort and competence is achieved:

  • Become aware of differences—ask, study, research, explore.
  • Internalize the values. Believe in diversity.
  • Gradually implement measures that monitor inclusivity.
  • Revise procedures and processes if necessary.
  • Involve others in planning and implementation. Ask questions to identify common beliefs and values among people of each cultural background.
  • Get involved and interact with people of each culture.
  • Be straightforward and honest in communications with people from different backgrounds.
  • Above all, determine and know their values! What is important to the particular population group is critical to acknowledge, and from there work down through each level of community and family to the individual.

Putting these steps into the fundraising context is vital because members in our congregations will tend to give their offerings or make donations to projects according to their own preferences and practices, often brought over from countries of origin. Recent arrivals are not the only ones who practice these characteristics. Second-and third-generation populations may also adhere to what is familiar or comfortable for them.4

A fairly recent volume that pulls together information about the culture, traditions, and religious motivations of diverse populations is available and can be a reference when planning offering appeals as well as fundraising campaigns. Diversity and Philanthropy: Expanding the Circle of Giving is a thoroughly researched volume on how various populations prefer to practice generosity.5

Yes, it is more blessed to give than to receive, and the richness of cultures will bless our churches and us as we acknowledge and embrace those differences. The blessings are of mutual benefit, and to ignore them is to impoverish ourselves and our churches in many ways.

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1  A version of this column was previously published as Lilya Wagner, “End of One-Size-Fits All: Cultural Influences in Church Giving,” NAD Ministerial, December 10, 2017, /stories/2017/12/5/end-of-one-size-fits-all-cultural -influences-in-church-giving.

2  For a summary of these research studies, please send an email to

3  Mark Rovner, Diversity in Giving: The Changing Landscape of American Philanthropy (Blackbaud, Feb. 2015), 5.

4  For a complete version of this article in which summaries of various population groups’ practices and preferences are described, please send an email to

5  Lilya Wagner, Diversity and Philanthropy: Expanding the Circle of Giving (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2016). Formore information, visit the Diversity and Philanthropy website at

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