Schafer: Thrivent finds a link between giving and financial security

  • Article by: LEE SCHAFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 8, 2014 - 10:00 AM

Workers started the process of installing the new heart emblem on their building in downtown Minneapolis, as part of the new branding campaign.. ] Thrivent brand changes beginning March 3, they are putting p a new large "heart" emblem on their building as part of the new branding campaign.. Thrivent has refreshed its brand to better express the story of the organization and to help more Christians feel welcome. This change is a natural next step following the membership vote to extend the common bond from Lutherans to Christians, which occurred in May of 2013. Starting March 3, Thrivent is incorporating new brand elements, including a new logo and tagline, into signage, stationery and other materials throughout 2014. Richard.Sennott@startribune.com Richard Sennott/Star Tribune Minneapolis, Minn. Thursday 3/20/2014) ** (cq)

Thrivent Financial CEO Brad Hewitt has long suspected that helping clients be financially secure isn’t enough.

Secure means just having enough money. Can’t they help clients to reach the point where they realize they have more than enough, what he called “being in surplus”?

After all, getting to surplus probably won’t take any more money.

His evolving strategy for Thrivent, a Fortune 500 financial services company based in Minneapolis, is grounded in data. Through third-party work and its own research, Thrivent has become convinced that people who believe they are in surplus are more likely to volunteer time or give away money. Ultimately, these people also achieve greater financial security.

This may not seem like much of a departure for a fraternal benefit company like Thrivent, but Hewitt said he’s come to realize that his company was “unconsciously competent” by championing things like company-sponsored volunteer programs. He’s making it an explicit part of strategy.

“This research has helped us,” Hewitt said. “It helped take what we all probably believed to be a truth, and put some evidence around that truth.”

To illustrate his point, Hewitt slid a chart across the table that showed the percentage of income given to charities across a wide income range, increasing from between 3 and 4 percent for people with household incomes below $50,000 per year to more than 5 percent at about $100,000 per year in household income.

At that level of income the trend line begins to turn down, then sharply down. Households with $200,000 of income gave less as a percentage of income than those with less than $50,000.

Next to it was a similar graph that illustrated the number of volunteer hours by level of household income. The trend line was virtually the same, with hours dropping above about $100,000 in household income.

He also showed what happens with donations and volunteer time data if it’s arranged by how people characterized their financial situation, from subsistence at one end to surplus at the other.

This time there is no dip. People who consider their financial situation as one of surplus give about 7 percent of income to charity and volunteer an average of at least 20 hours a year.

And they are not necessarily affluent. Thrivent found that two-thirds of clients with household income under $60,000 rated themselves as secure or surplus.

It’s interesting to think of the implications here. People with no more than middle-class income consider themselves in surplus. It means they have already progressed through “secure.” Their needs are being met. They have savings. They are not fretting about retirement.

They have money to give away.

Hewitt thinks one reason generosity tails off at $100,000 of income is that people who become that affluent start to have country club memberships, lake cabins, fishing boats and snowmobiles. It doesn’t just take money to enjoy these things, it also takes time.

Hewitt said he likes some of those things, too, acknowledging how hard it can be to remain in surplus.

Some of his biggest challenges come on vacation, at a timeshare townhouse in Telluride, Colo. He bought it about 10 years ago, so his family now vies with other owners well in advance to schedule the best weeks of the season.

It’s been a great experience for his family, he said, but Telluride also has its multimillion-dollar estates. Oprah Winfrey just bought a 60-acre property.

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