Content by Rev. Micah James, CCA
If you have turned on the news lately, you have seen the reports about falling oil prices. As of this post (January 9th, 2016), the price is $33.16 a barrel for crude oil. (NASDAQ) One of the questions I continue to hear around my community (and many others in oil-producing areas) is “How will oil prices affect charitable giving?”. Headlines like this “Oil prices blamed for drop in giving” (Amarillo Globe-News, Dec 2015) makes anyone who works in a non-profit nervous.
While I don’t have a crystal ball on the future of where oil prices will be, the issue prompts me to reflect on the nature of charitable giving.
- Negativity begets Negativity – While many in your community may be watching the oil prices closely, for personal or professional reasons, not all of the participants are so closely tied to the market reports. There is a larger economic impact of oil (and other commodities, for that matter), but the day-to-day financial decisions of most are based on their bank accounts, not the NASDAQ. Keeping that in mind, don’t make a bigger deal out of what is happening. Name the facts – someone in your congregation has lost job, decided to wait to a give gift, etc. – but don’t exaggerate. Exaggeration, especially negative exaggeration, will only cause other givers to consider holding back.
- Focus on Ministry – A motto of mine is “do the best you can for Christ, with what you have, where you are.” This is true no matter if oil prices are up or down. The ministry will not stop, it might change, but it will continue. As a ministry leader or pastor, focus on the people instead of their pockets. As a preacher or teacher, speak more on the work of the Gospel than you do about the movement of the market.
As for how to plan for any impact to your budget, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Charitable giving as a whole is NOT down – The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported, “Donors around the world gave $857 million using the online-payment company PayPal during the 2015 year-end giving season, executives said Thursday, a 15 percent increase over the year before.” (Article Link). Giving Tuesday, the global initiative to prompt giving as a part of the holiday season, reports, “In its fourth year, the global day of charitable giving known as #GivingTuesday witnessed record-breaking participation, with more than $116.7 million raised online by 24 major donation-processing platforms,” which is an astonishing amount raised. (Article Link)
- Talk about it – Don’t assume that everyone in your congregation has the same understanding of the market or of the impact on the church. Don’t leave financial discussion for the water cooler, especially if there is a barrage of negativity on the 5 o’clock news.
- Planning is important – If your community does a pledge campaign, use that as a basis for projecting and planning. If it doesn’t, this might be the time to get your leaders in a room and have a conversation about how best to project and plan for the financial needs of your community. Everything will be contextual. Non-profits ride a wave every year. Every community, in abundant or lean years, has a natural wave of giving. Chart the wave and plan accordingly. If you see a change in the wave (positive or negative) coming, prepare for it appropriately.
Events like the change of oil prices may prompt important financial conversations in your church. As a pastor/leader, don’t wait until there is anxiety to have these conversations. Make them a part of your regular dialogue.
In the end, oil up or down, the church has to be proactive stewards of the resources it is given. Be open. Be honest. Be visionary. Be realistic.