Stewardship

Tis that time of year in our church when the service is brought to you by the message of stewardship. When M and I were trying to find a congregation that suited us, we always seemed to venture in during a stewardship campaign. And as I was not very familiar with the Episcopal service at that point, I was fairly convinced that all services revolved around asking me for money, which didn’t sit so well with the Unitarian gal from New England. Once we moved here and started attending one church regularly, I realized that stewardship was a once a year thing, and it bothered me less.

Yet, as I sat listening to the stewardship messages yesterday, and the week before, and the week before that, I found myself getting more and more testy. Last night I sat and tried to figure out why. It is not because I don’t want to give away money, I happily write checks right and left to schools and non-profits and political candidates. And it is not because I am opposed to giving to religion, I was all ready to step up our contribution this year. It was the way in which I was asked.

Instead of pointing out all of the things that the funds being requested would be used (Sunday School, outreach projects, increased salaries for underpaid clergy, hiring a curate, fixing the leaks in the roof), the speakers tried to guilt me into giving. I should give because I don’t, or I don’t give enough. I should give more because I am selfish. I should give because the Church says I should tithe. I found the entire process offensive.

I give because I think a cause is worthy. I give as much of our income as I deem fiscally responsible. I think carefully about how I give, where I give, and why I give. To tell me that I don’t give enough implies that I am immature in my decision making. To tell me that I am selfish upsets me. To tell me that I should give because the Church demands it just annoys me.

I recognize that we attend church in a wealthy community. And I understand that a large percentage of the congregation does not pledge, or pledges small amounts. I was horrified when I heard what the average contribution was. It was much, much less than I expected. I understand the frustration that the vestry and clergy must feel. But I truly believe that trying to guilt or shame people into giving will only lead to reduced giving in the long run. It may work in the short term, for a certain sub-set of people, but to increase and sustain a donor base, you need to build trust and foster communication.

People give because they want to. They give because they feel good about an organization, its staff, and its mission. They give what they want to give, but that amount is usually negotiable, if done in an appropriate manner. If you want people to give to your organization, make them want to give. Convince them that your organization is worthy, that it can accomplish its mission.

If you want my money, don’t tell me to give until it hurts. I give because it makes me feel good. I give because I want to make the world a better place. And yes, I give because I feel guilty about having so much when so many have so little. But I am not going to give to your organization just because you tell me I should feel guilty. Instead, tell me how my money will help you make the world a better place.

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