Recently, my colleague Duke Smith published a blog discussing the decline in religion in the U.S. and what that entails for faith-based organizations. With fewer people identifying as religious, nonprofit fundraisers working in the faith-based sector may be worried about declining donor files and support.
How I see it, we can either face this issue head-on or shift our messaging with the changing times. Here’s how three faith-based organizations are reacting to religious decline in the U.S.
Face it head-on like the American Bible Society
As Duke mentioned in his blog, the most important thing to remember is to stay authentic and true to your organization’s values. If you change too much in hopes of reaching a wider audience, you may lose some of your most dedicated donors.
A great example here is the American Bible Society. While they typically focus on putting God’s Word into the hands and hearts of people worldwide, the shift in faith in the U.S. has reignited an urgency to expand efforts here at home.
To them, their faith is what drives them to help people. It is integral to their mission: to provide access to the Bible and its message for every person in every country. And this includes the United States.
The American Bible Society is connecting the Bible with American values and the creation of the United States as a nation. In 2021, they opened the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center, where historians and religious scholars share how the values that America was founded upon are rooted in biblical doctrine.
This shift in approach is now making its way into their fundraising efforts. Here are a couple of examples:
Listen to your donors like The Salvation Army
Too strong of a focus on religion can turn some donors away. Understanding your donor profile lets you tailor your message to resonate with them the most.
The Salvation Army has traditionally focused their message around the work they do with food and clothing collection, emergency homeless shelters and rent and utility assistance. Faith-based messaging is a smaller context rather than their defining feature.
Donors who recognize The Salvation Army as a religious organization can still support the great work they do. By having broad messaging that focuses on the work and the mission, The Salvation Army opens its doors to donors who may not have a strong faith affiliation.
Be transparent about new challenges like Phoenix Rescue Mission
With the surge of pandemic giving coming to an end, many organizations in the nonprofit sector are experiencing new challenges. For rescue missions, homelessness and addiction are on the rise as housing, food and transportation costs continue to climb. Coupled with the decline in faith in the U.S., these two issues pose a difficult challenge for fundraisers who support these groups.
Another approach we’ve seen from faith-based organizations who recognize these difficult times is to be candid with their donors.
In their direct mail marketing, Phoenix Rescue Mission informs its donors of the challenges that are facing their community, like poverty, addiction and domestic violence. They keep their faith-centered marketing but shift the message to a forward-thinking and action-based approach when communicating with their donors.
As we’ve seen from our research—“Solid Gold: The Nonprofit Marketer’s Guide to Trust"—transparency and competency are at the forefront for increasing donor trust. By being open and honest about the hardships that their community is facing, donors are more likely to connect with Phoenix Rescue Mission.
With a decline in faith in the U.S., many religiously affiliated organizations may feel a sense of urgency when it comes to strategic marketing and communication with their donors. Stay focused on your mission and values and remember the importance of the work your organization is doing.
- Solid Gold: The Nonprofit Marketer's Guide to Trust
- Religion is declining in the US: Here's what that means for faith-based nonprofits
- 3 ways rescue missions are building better donor journeys
- How nonprofits can rebuild trust and reach new audiences at the same time