Of Giving Trees and Plaques on the Wall

Earlier this week the Cleveland Browns announced that First Energy is paying huge money for the stadium to be named after the electric company.  It’s a win-win:  the Browns get a huge infusion of cash and First Energy gets some good PR and visibility in the community.

This practice, of course, is not new.  When I was a student at Mount Union, I lived in Cunningham Hall, had geology courses in Tolerton-Hood Hall, ate meals at the Hoover-Price Campus Center, and sweated in Peterson Field House, all named for significant benefactors to the College.

While there are churches in our conference named for benefactors, the practice is still the exception.

I am often asked my thoughts about donor recognition.  Most commonly, an Endowment Committee wants to put a plaque on the wall or have a “Donor Tree” commonly seen in hospital lobbies.  They are generally quick to point out that regardless fo the dollar amount, they want to recognize donors to a special cause.

Here’s my concern with that.

Take, for instance, the Andersons,  a couple where both have good careers.  They tithe and have for a long time.  This year they are pledging $15,000 toward the church operating fund.  Looking back at their donor history for the last decade they have tithed the entire time, with increases every year as their income does.  Giving this much in the offering plate each year does not leave much to give to the endowment.

But then look at the Bakers, a couple with a similar income that gives $100 a year.  For the last decade, they have given the same $100, and usually late in December when it’s best for their tax situation (although it really isn’t but that’s a sermon for another day).  They write a check for $25 to the endowment.

A month later, the Bakers’ name is on the wall of the Narthex as generous donors to the church.  Someone may wonder why the Andersons are not as generous as the Bakers.

For the record, the Andersons are probably perfectly fine with this arrangement.  It has been my experience that tithers do so for all the right reasons, and generally don’t care to be publicly recognized.  Having their name on the wall is the least important reason they give.

But I think we need to be careful lifting up the Bakers as examples of generosity.

People are generous to the church in dozens of ways.  Some, like volunteer time, are readily acknowledged publicly while others are not.  If we are going to recognize those who give, let’s make sure we recognize those who give generously, not just those who give loudly.

And please consider the ramifications of any proposed recognition program.

Years ago I worked for a boss who for the life of her couldn’t keep the words “plaque” and “plague” straight.  In church work, I think they may be related.

  1. John Germaine says:

    I feel ambivalent about such things. I appreciate the need for recognition, and society recognizes folks for all sorts of things, but we’re supposed to be generous for the sake of being generous. A former Church had a no-plaque policy, and I respected that. Older churches can be fairly littered with plaques for people no one remembers.

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