How should we say ‘thank you’?

Published April 1, 2006

Both the Anglican Journal and the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund had record years in their fundraising in 2005 (see Record year for Journal Appeal, March issue, and story in this issue, Record giving to PWRDF in ‘year of disaster’).

When the church is competing with thousands of other charitable organizations, this is a tremendous achievement and a testament to the generosity of Anglicans who value their church’s work.

As one of those involved in this work, I can attest that fundraising is a tricky thing in the religious world. For too many people, it seems, well, unseemly to ask for money for the church. There is a natural awkwardness about asking. The primate, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison tells a story from his days as a priest, ministering to a parishioner who was dying. When the man died, it emerged that he had left his money to various charities – the symphony, the museum, the hospital – but the church was not among them. No one, including the priest, had ever asked. Some clergy even ask to be kept ignorant of individuals’ church givings so they are not tempted to treat generous members or those of modest means differently.

The church is notoriously conflicted about fundraising, the lifeblood of so many of our worthwhile programs and projects. We know the value of our work in terms of the social good it does, but some of us tend to blanch when asked to put a dollar figure to it. (Of course, many of us who do work for the church espouse Christ’s teaching, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven” [Matt. 5:12], so no wonder we are puzzled.)

Donors, too, can feel a similar conflict in their giving. The Bible instructs us that we must not serve two masters and, “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.” Then, there was the widow who gave the two smallest coins to the church; her action did not impress the disciples, but Christ pointed out that her gift was more valuable than anyone’s, because it was all she had. We are told when we give money, “let not your left hand see what your right hand does.”

But we like to receive that thank you letter from the priest or the church or the charity that accompanies our charitable tax receipt at the end of the year. We like to be acknowledged and we like to hear how close our charity got to its goal and how our money made a difference.

A recent audit, or examination of the fundraisers of the Anglican Church of Canada made a number of observations about donor recognition and donor stewardship: how we cultivate donations, maintain relationships with donors and show our appreciation. In the main, the observations were similar for each fundraiser: we could all be doing better.

The consultants who wrote the report tell us that it is “seven times harder to get a first time gift from a new prospect than from an existing donor” and repeat gifts “are made easier when the recognition of and stewardship for past gifts is thoughtfully done.”

But the questions arise: how do donors to the church want to be thanked? Do they want to be thanked at all?

For some, a thank you card or letter is sufficient. If it is personalized, all the better. Others need nothing at all, and, frankly, would be embarrassed to receive anything else besides a tax receipt. They give because they believe in the work of their chosen charity.

Then there are the naming opportunities, common in the arts and philanthropic worlds and once well known in churches – where one’s name might appear on a stained glass window, a brass plaque or a pew – but much less familiar, now. Perhaps they fell out of favour because of increased reluctance to receive public recognition or perhaps parishes no longer wished to single out certain members for extra-ordinary generosity or ability to give.

Should the church take a page from pledge drives like that of PBS, the public broadcaster in the United States? Its on-air funding drives offer supporters various gifts to thank them for their financial contributions. The swag might include T-shirts, tote bags, books, videos, CDs, DVDs.

Should the church have different levels of thanks, depending on the amount of one’s donation? Or should everyone’s gift mean the same to us, regardless of the numbers on the cheque?

What do you think? How should the church thank its donors? Tell us, in 150 words or less: [email protected], or Anglican Journal, 80 Hayden St., Toronto ON M4Y 3G2.


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