Ultra Wealthy Christians Increasingly Seek to Align Faith with Education-Related Giving

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The number of ultra high net worth (UHNW) individuals who self-identify as Christian is on the rise, and data suggests that ultra wealthy Christians are allocating more of their philanthropic dollars to educational organizations that align with their beliefs.

Research conducted by Wealth-X for the annual Philanthropy Report revealed that the number of Christian UHNW individuals in the world grew by approximately 19 percent from 2013 to 2016.  The combined net worth for all UHNW Christians reached $2.34 trillion in 2016, which is an increase of seven percent over the 2013 figure.

Ultra wealthy Christians are also increasingly philanthropic.  Wealth-X estimates that total lifetime giving by Christian UHNWIs to all causes reached $24.6 billion in 2016, representing an increase of six percent over the 2013 total.  Close to half of that giving is to education, with total lifetime philanthropic giving for education-related causes by this group reaching $12 billion in 2016, representing an increase of nine percent over the 2013 total.

While some of this philanthropic largesse has been allocated to educational institutions that are closely aligned with the Christian faith, much of the giving is also to schools that are not aligned with a specific religion.

Schools that make an effort to tailor programs, initiatives, and messaging that aligns with the unique perspective of high potential Christian donors, will likely have an advantage over competing institutions that assume a shared religious affiliation is the primary motivational factor in the decision to give a major gift.

Some schools have already introduced well-received projects that have taken into consideration the perspective of ultra wealthy Christian philanthropists.  One of the most prominent examples is the Center for Marriage and Relationships (CMR), which was launched by Biola University in 2014 to address and help correct the growing cultural misconceptions that the majority of marriages will fail, and to increase understanding of the role that research, biblical scholarship, and faith can play in supporting 21st century marriages and relationships.  To date, more than 7,000 participants have attended the CMR’s marriage retreats, and seminars.

As the CMR has expanded, leadership at the center has been in a position to learn more about what ultra wealthy Christians look for when deciding which educational institutions to support.  While having an aspect of biblical scholarship is likely to attract attention, what they are really looking for is responsible and accountable programs that support their desire to give back and make a meaningful impact.

“A very common theme and pattern is an overall desire to give back, because they feel called to be a steward, and having been blessed with wealth, they have a responsibility to steward it wisely,” said Dr. Chris Grace, Director of the CMR.  “Christian philanthropists feel called by the tenants of faith to be other-focused and that is what drives them.  Wealthy Christians will ask themselves if this organization or company or school will be able to follow-through in helping other people flourish, and if they have a positive track record and institutional character.”

Christian philanthropists are also seeking to invest in projects that are culturally relevant today.  Indeed, the programs and projects that appealed to our parents and grandparents have become vastly different to the younger generations.  Today philanthropists are asking, “What are the needs of my community, our society – both as Christians and non-Christians? Where is the breakdown and how can I help?”

Finally, UHNWI Christians are looking to invest in programs that are personally relevant. Because they themselves are in relationships and/or married, the particular mission and work of the CMR is meaningful to them specifically.  Because many of them have adult children who are married or considering marriage, the CMR can be perceived as a welcome resource to support their loved ones.  In other words, these issues impact them personally and significantly, therefore they desire to support those relevant programs significantly.

They share a passion for teaching Christian couples how to build a marriage that brings them joy, embraces Christian principles, and sets an example for other couples.

As an educational institution, Biola’s CMR is uniquely positioned to provide relevant relationship resources based on the practice of integrating scholarly academic disciplines and cutting edge research with the church’s principles for a robust, well-rounded perspective.

Conversely, two major concerns tend to drive away those same donors:

1. A perceived lack of relevance to the current culture and community in which they live

2. A lack of relevance to their own personal lives or passions

The growth in the number of UHNW Christians, and the total wealth that they command, presents an opportunity for educational institutions to develop relationships with these high potential donors by appealing to their beliefs, which favors capable and responsible oversight and a desire to experience and share Christianity with others.

Education- related organizations have increasingly leveraged Wealth-X intelligence to help profile UHNW donors.  Wealth-X dossiers include details on religious affiliation, passions and interests, and philanthropic giving, which help fundraisers cultivate existing relationships, and to prepare for productive interactions.  Universities also partner with Wealth-X to help identify philanthropists outside of the alumni base who share the values and vision of the school.

For more information about the Center for Marriage and Relationshipsplease contact Biola University at cmr@biola.edu

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