A few years back I took a series of classes at NYU on fundraising and management for nonprofits. It was a very interesting class; one of the key things that they said to having a successful fundraising campaign was to recognize the givers. Not only to name them, but also the amount that they gave. To which I gave a chuckle, “That would never work in a church!” To which they gave me a list of many churches that had great success doing that.
I went back to my church at the time and told them what I had learned. Other than not naming the big donors, we were following most of the other things they recommended. But when I mentioned the thing about naming donors and listing what they gave, that was shot down without a second thought. The response they gave was “Presbyterians don’t do that.” I let it go; personally, I was not big on doing that anyway. But it made me think about why.
In all of my churches, around Christmas time I will get some money to anonymously hand out to families in need. The first year that I did that for one person, he said:
“It is crucial that no one know this is me giving the money; you see, when I was a child my father had lost his job and we did not have enough money to keep the lights on in the winter, let alone food or anything else.
After looking for a job for two weeks and no success, our father was starting to research shelters where we could stay and at least have heat. One morning after we woke and all of us were frozen, our mother told us to pack, and we were almost out the door when the mailman came to the door handed us an envelope with enough money to cover our expenses for the month.
It was like a gift from God. We never knew where the money came from or how it was just the right amount, but it was, and within the month, my dad found a new job and everything turned around. You see, while we knew that a person had done this, and there was an ongoing family guessing game as to who it was, we really knew that it was God. God inspired that person, and God had directed them to send it to us. And the spirit will work through you to give this to someone who really needs it.”
This was a man who had done very well for himself; while he started his life in a family that often went without, as an adult he lived very comfortably. This annual gift he recognized needed to be seen not as charity, but as a hand up to someone who needed it. Moreover, to him it was a moment of grace, and it really did not need to be known who, that would just detract.
Personally, he had a feeling that was indescribable in his heart, and though he wanted to share it with everyone, he knew in some way that would cheapen the gift of love that he gave. Which brings us to the lesson this week, Matthew 6.
When thinking of the discipleship that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount, the giving that we are rewarded for in this world is often not for God, but for our own social positioning or power. When we give anonymously we do it as a spiritual, personal practice. This is why as a church we rarely talk about how much someone gives, and why money is such a uncomfortable subject, because we don't want to get caught in a situation where our focus becomes more about the money than it is about God.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen