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Giving Trends: An Interview with David Wills


Christian Leadership Allaince Giving Trends: an Interview with David Wills, President of National Christian Foundation

When it comes to giving, there are always two sides to the equation: how organizations are engaging givers, and how people are actually giving. As president of National Christian Foundation (NCF), David Wills has the advantage of seeing both from the ground level. By watching these trends, NCF is able to help connect givers with meaningful giving opportunities, and vice versa. Laura Leonard spoke with Wills about what he’s seeing now, and how organizations can adapt to the changing giving climate. This interview first appeared in the 2016 Fall edition of Outcomes magazine.

What are some of the key giving trends you’re seeing today at NCF?

There are three types of givers: givers who give cash; givers who give cash and publicly-traded assets and givers who give cash, publicly traded assets; and non-liquid assets, from their net worth. There are trends with regards to each one of them that we ought to be paying attention to in the fundraising/development world.

That final group comprises your major donors. That’s the group you primarily want to focus on. The vast majority of their wealth is found in their non-liquid assets. Unfortunately, if you ask a ministry, church or nonprofit, “What percentage of your revenue comes from receiving and liquidating, or getting income from, non-liquid assets?” the response is generally, “Zero.” That’s very unfortunate.

At NCF, this will be our first year to go over a billion dollars in grants going out to ministries and churches. Of the $500 million that has already gone out this year, you can assume that $150–200 million of that has come from the liquidation of non-liquid assets. We have paid very close attention in dealing with major donors in getting in front of them and saying, “Of everything that you own, should you be looking in this bucket?” And inevitably they say, “I didn’t even know that I could give that.”

How does an organization communicate that kind of request?

Organizations should help givers answer a new question that they’re not asking: “What should I give?” Most organizations just assume that a donor is going to give them a check, or a credit card or a recurring debit payment. They need to ask donors, “Of all the things that you own, what should you give?” Demographically, the sweet spot right now is the boomer generation. That’s where the wealth is. Boomers built businesses — lots of them.

A ministry or a church should find a way to ask them, “Do you own a business? And if you do, if you ever consider selling your business, please talk to us before you do.” That’s all they need to say. If you sell your business, anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of it will evaporate the moment you sell it. There is a way, in most cases, to give away the portion that you’re going to pay in taxes. They’d probably rather have God’s work funded by those dollars.

How can ministries help their donors become more well-planned and strategic in their giving?

All givers ask three questions:

  • Why should I be generous?
  • How do I do it?
  • And where should I give?

The “why” question is a threshold question; it is a question of the heart. I’m very intentional in encouraging ministries to become increasingly proficient in encouraging people about why they should be generous. Organizations should be helping their givers understand why it’s so good to be generous. When ministries do that well, they’re not asking it from the donor, they’re asking what they can do for them.

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