I read this article about Clinton’s campaign launching a special Internet program so that they can receive donations for specific things. I have to admit, this has some appeal.
I was recently invited to give money to a campaign, with the promise that if I gave a lot of money, I’d be able to go to a cocktail party with the candidate. I almost gave—until I realized that my piddly donation was just going to buy a bottle of wine for someone else’s party. Of course, that’s how democracy works these days, but when the thought occurred to me, I noticed that my daughter needed new shoes and I put my checkbook away.
So, I imagine the software will be useful. If I knew that my money was going to X instead of Y, I would have been more willing to sign the check.
I’m afraid what this sort of software might do to our churches. I mean, my sort of thinking seeps into our congregations. We want some control over our “gifts.” We want brass plates and acknowledgments. We want to underwrite our pet projects.
And I, as a pastor, have been known to ask certain members for gifts to particular causes, projects, or needs around the church. If I know that something doesn’t fit in the annual bare-bones budget, I’ve gone around it. And, believe me, it’s much easier to present an idea to the board when there’s the caveat, “I already know someone who’s willing to pay for this.” It almost always gets passed. I’ve even bankrolled certain things myself.
But is this the best way to go about things? What about the collective wisdom of the congregation, who approves the budget? What about the nightmare of trying to make sure that a particular gift goes to a particular cause? What about the idea of giving with no strings attached? And, in these side deals, are we giving too much power to the donor, instead of allowing it to rest in our governing boards?
More worrisome, I wonder if we are creating a culture where a gift isn’t quite a gift. Perhaps I’ve been too jaded by Derrida, but if we are giving to a cause, or a community, or (I hesitate to write it, for some reason…) to God, then should we not cut the strings, and relinquish our control over it?
As a fundraiser (which, uncomfortably, many religious leaders are at some level), I can see both sides. It is so much easier to ask people to give to something tangible. They realize the outcome of even a small amount of money. But, giving to a spiritual community, if you don’t have any say over where it might go, that’s true sacrifice.
So what do you think about designated gifts? Do you accept them? Do you encourage them? Do you discourage them? I’d love to know.