I attend church on a regular basis and am not sure what is a respectable amount to give as an offering. I have gone to a few different churches, and I found one that I like, but they ask [for money] every week, and for various reasons. This week they asked for a contribution to the normal dues, and a contribution for missionary work abroad. I enjoy the service, so I don't want to short-change the church, even though that money could go towards paying off my debt. What do you recommend?
I brought in a special guest expert on this topic to help answer your question, since I don’t have a ton of experience donating to a place of worship. There’s no doubt many people are as equally puzzled as you. Kimberly Palmer, author of the new financial book Generation Earn: The Young Professional's Guide to Spending, Investing, and Giving Back, weighs in with some terrific advice for you and everyone considering joining and giving back to their place of worship. She starts with a disclaimer: “Giving is always entirely optional, although in certain circumstances, including churches you attend regularly, you’re expected to give something to help support the community. As long as you’re trying out different churches, though, don’t feel pressure to give more than a nominal amount, because you’re considered a guest.”
Give What You Can And What Feels Right
It’s entirely up to you to decide how much you can give and what is appropriate given your monthly budget. If you’re curious to know, though, on average college graduates give about $1,200 a year to charity, according to the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. That comes out to just over $20 a week. “And serious church-goers sometimes commit 10% of their incomes to the church,” says Palmer. But don’t let that pressure you if you simply can’t afford it. Never compromise your ability to pay off debt and save. Address those needs first. Finally, says Palmer, give what feels right. “Ideally, giving should feel good—not like a chore—because it’s aligned with your larger goals.”
Keep It Consistent
No matter what amount you decide on, try to give on a regular basis, advises Palmer. “Once you choose to commit to one church, you’ll probably want to contribute something each week so you feel fully part of the community.”
Keep It Discreet
Remember that you can put your donation in an envelope ahead of time to avoid the scrutiny of fellow churchgoers in your aisle.
Offer Help, Instead
If your budget is tight, don’t feel too much pressure to break the bank to give back. Instead, considering offering your time and energy to the group’s initiatives and causes. Volunteer on the weekends or during church-related events. “If you have a specific skill, such as accounting or graphic design, consider offering your services,” suggests Palmer.
Know How You’re Helping
Whether you’re giving your money or your time, make sure to understand exactly what you’re supporting. “You deserve to know how the money is being spent, including how much goes towards the actual cause you’re contributing to versus administration or overhead costs,” says Palmer. Organizations and non-profits, including religious ones, typically have this paperwork handy since they need to file it anyway. Don’t be shy. Your church should be willing and happy to share the information to donors. If you’re giving to a nonprofit, you can look it up on charitynavigator.org to see how it spends its money.
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