Saturday, March 3, 2012

No, you can't charge admission to church

Of course, nobody yet (that I know of) has charged to go to morning services, however I had heard that some churches require filling out a pledge card before becoming members and charge for various concerts or fundraising events.


It just doesn't sit right.

This is true for other organizations too.  Any group who has the goal of being inclusive, should, well, be inclusive.  But, how do we do that?

Should nobody pay?  Where is the money for refurbishing the organ going to come from?  How will the heating bill be paid!?  How will light bulbs be changed?!?

If you are an inclusive organization, certainly the goal is to treat everyone the same, regardless of their ability to pay or how much money they have actually ponied up.  To this end, the amount of said ponied money should be generally anonymous - no plaques for large donors, no buildings named after the benefactors, and no special treatment for the family of Mr. and Mrs. Philenthropsis.  Let Mr. and Mrs. Philenthropsis donate to hospitals, private colleges or the local little league team if they want their name misspelled horribly in etched Times New Roman, silk-screened Helvetica, or Comic Sans applique. 

If you are an inclusive organization, certainly the goal is that nobody is left out, right?  So, should there be no ticketed events?  Should everything be free?  What about the money spent on the spaghetti and smelt dinner, the Good News Happy Fun Time band, and the character creating camping excursion - how do those events happen without charging a fee?

If you aren't thinking too clearly, you might think that the solution to this problem is to provide low-income scholarships or put aside a few tickets for the needy, so that they can come to you and mean apply for them.  What's a little pride swallowing between friends?  Maybe if there aren't quite enough tickets or scholarships to go around, we could have a sympathy-off where my-mother-just-had-surgery competes with I-just-lost-my-house.  (If you can't read the sarcasm, simply put, this is a horrible idea and completely defeats the purpose of not making people feel like crap.)

So, what is the solution?  If you just ask people to give what they can; this doesn't work.  Since they don't have an idea about what is expected, it will just make them anxious about giving.  It's like not knowing the customary bribes when you are traveling.  It's just awkward.

Solution: the magic of the "suggested donation"!

When pledge time comes around the suggested donation is generally a percentage of net income.  Even then, when you create the chart that does the math, start small.  Show what 1% is, 3%, 5% and 10%.  Put either the 3% or 5% in bold.  It's subtle, but they will get the idea.  I've seen such figures called "fair share" tables.  I think that is the right amount of guilt and manipulation.  Telling your congregants that they will burn if they don't tithe 10% or pulling a CBN and impling that if they give to the church they will win the the immortal words of Trent Reznor, "If there is a h......"

During any sort of event, simply mention what you would have charge otherwise as the "suggested donation".  You might be surprised.  For the $15 spaghetti and smelt dinner with entertainment by the Good News Happy Fun Time band to help pay for the character creating camping excursion; the suggested donation is $15 a person (or $25 for a family - childcare provided).  Now, everyone can come even if they only pony-up $4.35 of money found somewhere in their sofa and the people who are able to pay more, feel all fuzzy when they put a $20 bill in the box.

Oh yeah, and perhaps when Mr. and Mrs. Philenthropsis gives a big chunk of money to build the new edition, if might be okay to ask them for some input on what it should be called that doesn't start with P and rhyme with hilenthropsis.  I suggest naming it after someone that the organization admires for how that person lived her life or the great ideas she had (preferably someone who is dead, so she doesn't have a chance to really mess it up); but it doesn't need to be named after a person.  Instead, it could be named after something the organization values and the name could remind everyone walking past what the organization hopes to stand for.  You know, what they really care about.

(I mean, don't you think it would be weird if this was called "Wayne Hall"?)

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