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Valuing Money vs. Members

By Hyphen Parent

  • At a board meeting for a Jewish organization, ticket prices are being set for a fundraiser.  When someone objects that the price is too high for some members to afford, another board member counters, “Well then this isn’t for those people.”
  • At a Catholic church, when a young member family goes more than a month without turning in their family’s money envelope at Mass, a letter is sent scolding the family their absence and insisting the church relies on their donations.
  • A non-profit organization is asked by several volunteers to reschedule a meeting, but refuses because the largest donors can be there and their presence is the most important thing.
  • At a church, an elderly man on a fixed income must walk past a giant plaque listing the names of $10,000+ donors to hand in the $10 in change that he managed to save in the past few months.

Do you value your members and congregants, or do you really only value their money?

In your rush to honor your high donors, is your group, synagogue, or church alienating other members?

We must be extremely careful in religious organizations and other non-profits to be understanding of and listen to all members. We must ask our members and ourselves tough questions and listen to difficult honest answers. Their experience may be completely foreign and even baffling to us, but we must listen. Are we assuming all of our members share the same privilege we do? Would we give this member this honor if they didn’t donate large sums of money? Would we refuse this member this request if they gave more money?

Non-profits Need Money

Organizations need money to survive. There is absolutely an obligation to pay for services. There is a need to provide for those who will come after us. So too is there a need to provide for and acknowledge that our members and donors have vastly different needs and vastly different abilities.  They all have value and talents, but they may not all have money.

Our organizations rely on donations, so yes we want to honor and recognize those who give.  However, we must be extremely careful that in honoring those, we don’t alienate others who have just as much of a desire to support the organization, but not nearly enough money to do so in the same way.

Your office, church, synagogue, or school has plaques honoring high donors. Does it have plaques honoring volunteers? If so, are those plaques featured as prominently? Are there just as many volunteer plaques as financial honors? Are they similar in appearance or is there only a single tiny one tucked away in a corner?

Check Your Privilege

Are members of our groups speaking from a place of privilege? Years ago, I was on a board for a synagogue where we were told we were all expected to be at a fundraising dinner. Tickets were $100 per person and there was no childcare offered.  That particular board complained for years that they couldn’t get parents of young families to join the board.  That experience helped illustrate one of the reasons why.  The cost made it impossible for many young families to afford. Just because some or even most members can afford that, not all can. So many fundraising events have tickets set at $10, $36, or $50 per person. Members argue that the prices aren’t unreasonably high or even high enough and it is, after all, a fundraiser.  For a retired empty-nester couple, that cost may be reasonable. For a family of seven, that cost is astronomical.

Is your goal to accrue wealth or to meet the needs of the people you serve?  There are absolutely ways to balance both. Engagement and fundraising should be entwined.

If you force your members to elbow their way through huge donors in an attempt to contribute in their own way, you may find they have nothing left to give.

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