Faith Works 10-3-15
Money, Millions, and Munificence
I was momentarily disheartened by learning in the news this week that the presidential candidates, all together, raised a total of about $100,000,000 in the last quarter (that's One Hundred Million for those who don't like numbers).
Then, idly, I checked out how much American colleges & universities raise per quarter, which works out to about $8,000,000,000 (that's Eight Billion dollars; see www.cae.org for more info). That's less than best estimates I find for church giving in aggregate, which seems to come out to an annual total of about $120,000,000,000 (One Hundred-and-Twenty Billion) or $30,000,000,000 per quarter (Thirty Billion).
By way of comparison, the SNAP/Food Stamp program cost US taxpayers $74,000,000,000 (Seventy-four B) last year, numbers declining so far this year, so let's say $18,000,000,000 per quarter (Eighteen B).
Yes, I can think of plenty I'd rather see done with a hundred million bucks than buy mailers and TV ads. And this doesn't include giving to Super PAC's, 527 political groups and 501(c)4 organizations, which looks to run around $500,000,000 (Five Hundred Million) per year, so $125,000,000 (One Hundred-and-Twenty-five Million) a quarter at least, with indications that's up right now, call it more like $150M.
Since we're making comparisons here (or I am, anyhow), let's also look at tax revenue, all told, federal and state and local combined. Right now, that's running at $6,000,000,000,000 (that would be Six Trillion dollars), or $1,500,000,000,000 per quarter (One-and-a-half Trillion). Hat tips, www.taxpolicycenter.org, www.usgovernmentrevenue.com, and www.governing.com. (Reasonable people may disagree by a billion here or a billion there.)
Gross domestic product, according to the Wall Street Journal, is slowing somewhat, growing at 2.6% as last year ended, about 2.4% growth for 2014. Call it (hold on to something solid) $17,419,000,000,000 (Seventeen and almost a half Trillion). That's all the economic activity in general, from online transactions to buying a burger at a drive up window to pumping gas and swiping a card at the pump. Sticking with my quarter-perspective from the Federal Elections Commission reports, that means over $4,300,000,000,000 per quarter (Four Trillion and Three Hundred Billion). 34% goes into taxes, by the way. Interesting.
Okay, so giving to presidential campaigns isn't so bad. It's probably less than we spend in any given three month period on antiperspirants, and no, I won't look that one up for you, good luck on your own! It helps, it always helps to get perspective.
And economically, it's hard to maintain perspective on figures when they move into the millions, the billions, the trillions. You hear political debate that focuses on growth and cuts and cuts in the rate of growth and deferred giving or debt loads and it all gets overwhelming.
Even in church life, a fairly modestly sized congregation like the one I serve has a budget of a quarter-million dollars. Wow, he said to himself. That's quite a bit of money.
Yet when you figure out what it takes to operate 8,000 square feet of facility and compensate one full time staffer (hi!) and nine more varying levels of part-time staffers, it's amazing how little you have left after fixed costs to fiddle around with. The numbers seem big at first, but start spending it and they get small in a hurry.
Likewise with any number of proposals and needs where you can be daunted by the upfront numbers or costs. It's like the old line "how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time."
Many faith communities are doing their fall stewardship education right now, and households are looking at their giving. You have to start with your income (you know what that is, right? It's amazing how many don't, so figure it out), then be honest about what you give for what you believe in, and do the math. What's the percent? Divide the giving by the getting, multiply by 100. You can probably do it on your phone.
For most Americans, even churchgoing ones, you'll probably come up with something around 2%. I'm not going to preach on tithing here, but I will say this: look at that percent you're giving now? And figure out what the next step up is. One bite at a time. Sooner or later, you start giving at a level that helps you remember it's all a gift anyhow, you're just getting the chance to point it somewhere for a while.
Where are you pointing?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him about how you give at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.