One of the clearest shifts among Christian mega-donors is demographic. Gen Xers and early Millennials are just starting to take the reins of legacy family foundations or come into their giving potential, and their sensibilities differ from their parents’. “From a young age, being involved in work that was serving others was something I felt really drawn to,” said Robin Bruce, the 35-year-old president of the David Weekley Family Foundation, her family’s philanthropic organization. It gave away roughly $7.1 million in 2015, according to tax documents, with roughly $114 million in assets.
“For a long time, especially with Baby Boomers, there was so much wealth created so quickly,” Bruce said. “People just started giving where it was comfortable, which was usually local, with causes … they become familiar with … through their local church or network.” By contrast, her generation wants giving away money to be part of who they are, she said: The causes they support, whether it’s developing health clinics in Africa or mentoring kids in Houston, are central to their sense of identity.
As the shape of wealth in America changes, the shape of evangelical wealth is changing along with it: Some members of a new evangelical donor class made their money in entrepreneurship and are drawn to evidence of innovation, transparency, and accountability in the organizations they support. This “generation is … more concerned with outcomes, with causes, with getting things done,” said David Wills, the former head of the National Christian Foundation, which has given more than $10 billion in grants since it was founded in 1982 and is one of the largest donor-advised funds in the country.
This overlaps with another trend in the evangelical-donor class: Over time, it may become more diverse. Kwan described a community of second- and third-generation Asian American Christians in Silicon Valley who “aren’t necessarily beholden to the culture wars of the past,” he said. The causes that have come to be associated with evangelicalism—issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and religious liberty—don’t necessarily resonate outside a specific, white-evangelical milieu. As money shifts, those concerns will shift, too.
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All of these trends have shaped the way Christian dollars are spent. In a 2018 study, Giving USA and Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy found a sharp decrease in religious giving over the past four decades, declining from well over half of all giving in the late ’70s through the early ’90s to roughly a third as recently as 2017. This does not necessarily mean evangelicals are giving away less money, said David King, the director of the university’s Lake Institute on Faith and Giving. Instead, they may be donating to organizations and causes that aren’t explicitly associated with church and parachurch organizations.