Thursday, September 2, 2010

Churches and charity, part 1

A couple of days ago, I posted a quote from an article that basically says people in the U.S. can be more generous; non-profits should take a look at how churches do fundraising because religious services are really a form of marketing.


OK, so my reaction is colored in part because I was laid off from a church position when the pledges from our annual appeal didn't cover my salary, so my appreciation for the church's fundraising abilities is somewhat tainted. But aside from that, this raises some questions. I'm still pondering all of this. I meant to write something today but still don't have it straight in my mind.

However, at the Anonymous Historian's urging, I will start by posting the comment I left on the article itself. Tell me if this sounds right to you:

As an Episcopal priest and someone who has worked both in non-profit development and microfinance, I thought I would respond. I'm still thinking about this, though, and know that this response is incomplete, to say the least.

I have to say, I'm not sure what a good job churches are doing at our marketing if the message you perceive we are sending has nothing to do with--you know--God. I was kind of hoping that "Love God and love your neighbor" would be our take-away. I don't think "be charitable" (in terms of money) ought to be the primary message of churches, but what's sad as I think about it is how clearly I can perceive this has been the case. Take, for example, the 700 club whose very name refers to the amount of money one contributes to belong.

One advantage I think churches have over most humanitarian organizations is that church leaders can claim, "God wants you to give money to this cause." The Bible in all its authority can be used, often in negative ways, to urge members to contribute their financial support. "God loves a cheerful giver" can be used to guilt trip (or "encourage" depending on your perspective) people not only to give money, but to be happy about it--with the implicit suggestion that God isn't pleased if you aren't happy about forking over the dough. We are told almost every year as pledges are collected that giving a tenth of one's income is the expectation God has of us.

In a lot of ways, the church has been incredibly abusive in its fundraising techniques. Just look at indulgences. Look at the popular prosperity gospel churches today.

Don't get me wrong: churchgoers are generous people and the church does train people in generosity. Lots of good organizations and worthy causes have benefited from this. Churches do a lot of good work. That said, as an insider and as a fundraiser, I think churches do a lousy job in fundraising, per se. I'm not sure that looking to churches as a good model is really how you want to go.

More when I have more.


Elisabeth said...

If I have a limited amount of money (and it becomes more limited as the days progress), but I know of an actual person in desperate need, given the choice to help a person in need or help the church, I give to the person in need. This was what Jesus taught: people serve God by serving people in need. The institutions do not necessarily serve--yes, they can, and they do through outreach (done by people), but some of institutions really don't serve, or are, in fact, self-serving.

Jesus was less about the Temple and its upkeep than about the Kingdom of God, which is everywhere and reflected in every being.

LKT said...

Thank you, yes, I agree completely.