Faith-Based Organizations: The First Fundraisers?

Global Philanthropic Canada serves communities across Canada, helping organizations to level up their fundraising. That support comes in many forms. Global’s Senior Consultants serve many sectors, with a significant focus on healthcare, higher education, and social services. Several consultants also have substantial and diverse experiences serving faith-based organizations. They understand and can help address the unique fundraising challenges these organizations face.

Faith-based organizations (FBOs) are charitable or non-profit organizations associated with or informed by religion and may include congregations of all faiths, missionary societies, and religious media companies. Statistics Canada’s research shows that religiously active people contribute 71% of the total donated to religious organizations,¹ so attendance is key.

In recent years, the pandemic has offered up a significant blow to attending services or events in person. During the lockdowns, almost all in-person gatherings disappeared, along with a large portion of financial contributions from these face-to-face meetings. Adapting and evolving to do things differently was challenging for many FBOs.

However, diminishing attendance started way before the pandemic. In fact, the descending trend has been progressing for decades, and the pace is fast-tracking. This critical trend affects not just FBOs but arguably the entire charitable sector.

Statistics Canada reports that when charities were first required to register federally in 1967, more than 60% were FBOs. By January 2022, they made up less than 30% of Canada’s 86,080 registered charities. The implications for society, giving, and estate planning are significant.²

Reginald Bibby,³ an authority in the field, identifies a deep relationship between religious activity, volunteering, and charitable giving. He highlights the ripple effects of declining attendance. As church attendance lessens, a decrease in volunteering in Canada also drops. While FBOs have made tremendous contributions to the charitable sector in the past, he argues that a renewed focus is critical for both FBOs and the Canadian way of life.

There are many factors that we can point to for declining participation. The Canadian population is aging, and physically getting to a church can be a hurdle for many. On the flip side, generally speaking, millennials have a sea of choices regarding religion and spirituality, especially with the barrage social media’s influences. They can choose faith, bypass it, or simply select the parts they like and discard those they don’t. As already stated, as participation decreases, so do donations.

Still, the pandemic has been the most recent and significant issue affecting all charities. Keeping pace with evolving digital technology was critical to maintaining donation levels for many non-profit organizations. Some were ready and others scrambled to improve. For many charities, this was a new way of asking for and receiving donations that now became essential. Secondly, with almost no in-person contact, learning about the charity and its needs, in this case the FBO, was almost completely done online. It was vitally important to have a well-designed, easy-to-navigate website. Many charities, including FBOs, who were not creative enough, resisted change, or hoped that things would return to “normal” quickly suffered the most. In many cases they were faced with reducing capacity.

In my experience, some FBOs view fundraising in a negative light and not associated with ministry. In response, I might argue that they were the first fundraisers. After all, isn’t passing the collection plate a form of fundraising? The work of fundraising, while not usually considered a direct realization of an organization’s mission, fills an important role. One of my favourite theologians, Henry Nouwen⁴, said:

“When we seek to raise funds, we declare, ‘We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We invite you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you—your energy, your prayers, and your money—in this work to which God has called us.” Our invitation is clear and confident because we trust our vision and mission.”

Whether your FBO’s response to changing realities, including the effects of the pandemic, was to pivot your outreach to maintain or increase donations, or contrary-wise, needed to reduce programming because of diminished donations, your focus NOW should be on building capacity. That requires strategic thinking and planning, grounded in mission and purpose, and strongly oriented toward serving needs of the community.

Global Philanthropic Canada understands the unique fundraising challenges FBOs face and our consultants are ready to help with your philanthropic objectives. Working with organizations of all sizes and missions, our Senior Consultants have worked from coast to coast to coast, providing a personal, one-on-one touch from fundraising professionals with decades of on-the-ground experience to help you move forward to meet and exceed your fundraising goals. Reach out for your free 30-minute consultation.

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Gabriella Catolino holds a Master of Divinity degree and joined Global Philanthropic Canada as a Senior Consultant with the Ontario team in 2022. She is a transformative leader who enjoys inspiring staff teams and volunteers by building trust and cultivating long-lasting and authentic relationships. Gabriella specializes in supporting faith-based projects, First Nations & Indigenous projects, healthcare and higher education organizations. Over the course of her career spanning three decades, Gabriella has helped many organizations raise more than $100 million – and growing!


¹ www150.statcan.gc.ca/

² www150.statcan.gc.ca/

³ Born on 3 April 1943 in Edmonton, Alberta, Reginal Bibby received a BA from the University of Alberta, a BD from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, a MA from the University of Calgary, and a PhD from Washington State University. In 2006, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada.

⁴ Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer, and theologian. His interests were psychology, pastoral ministry, spirituality, social justice, and community. After nearly two decades of teaching at academic institutions including the University of Notre Dame, Yale Divinity School, and Harvard Divinity School, Nouwen went on to work with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities at L’Arche Daybreak Community in Richmond Hill, ON.

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