“Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God.” (I Peter 2:7)
Good stewardship requires that both parishioners and the parish administration together with governance (the parish council) honor the moral contract that is forged when a gift is made to the parish. Legally, a donor surrenders “control” over a gift that is treated as a tax-deductible charitable contribution.
However, if a parishioner is asked to give to a specific purpose, say a building renovation project, then the parish, having accepted the gift, is honor bound to utilize the money for the purpose for which it is given. If the purpose for which the gift is given is no longer viable, then the parish should follow one of three courses.
Failure to follow one of these three courses guarantees unhappy parishioners now potentially infected with distrust and cynicism. Or worse, in future fundraising efforts, donors remember the mismanagement of their earlier gift and are resistant to giving again.
1) Ask the donor if the gift can be used for a related or even a different purpose, perhaps one of interest to the donor;
2) Ask the donor if the money can be placed in a designated fund for the original purpose for which it was given and then utilized at such time as the purpose again becomes viable;
3) Offer to return the gift to the donor but do realize the donor may already have taken this as a deduction on their tax returns.
To ensure that generous giving merits the respect and trust of parishioners, and that donors and prospective donors can have full confidence in the parish’s fundraising efforts, parishes should strive to maintain the following Parish Honor Code as regards parishioner giving.
1) Parishioners should be informed of the parish’s mission, of how the parish intends to use donated resources, and of its capacity to use donations effectively for their intended purposes.
2) Parishioners should be informed of the names of those serving on the parish council, and to expect the parish council to exercise prudent judgment in its stewardship responsibilities.
3) Parishioners should have access to the parish’s most recent financial statements.
4) Parishioners should be assured their gifts will be used for the purposes for which they were given.
5) Parishioners should receive appropriate acknowledgement and reporting.
6) Parishioners should be assured that information about their contribution is handled with respect and confidentiality.
7) Parishioners should expect that all relationships with parish staff will be professional in nature.
8) Parishioners should feel free to ask questions when making a contribution and to receive prompt, truthful and forthright answers.
In the experience of the author, the most often cause for a breach of the honor code occurs around naming opportunities. Projects are changed, delayed, cancelled, or the sequence of construction results in failure to honor the naming commitment (a person commits $250,000 for the Pantocrator icon in the new sanctuary but not enough money is raised to build the actual church! The strong recommendation of the author is to avoid naming opportunities at all costs. These are not one of the major reasons why people are motivated to give, but we think they are. They are the cause of much distress, misunderstandings and disappointments in parish life.
1) We can be non-responsive. This is likely institutional or organizational arrogance.
2) We can be totally responsive. This is a form of prostitution in which our integrity is for sale.
3) We can be highly responsive. This is when we do all that we can to honor the donor’s conditions but draw the line on compromising the integrity of the church, or our own.
Note: this article is adapted from “The Donor Bill of Rights” developed by:
Association of Fund Raising Counsel (AAFRC)
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP)
Advancement and Support of Education (CASE)
Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP)
And Endorsed by:
National Catholic Development Conference (NCDC)
National Committee on Planned Giving (NCPG)
Council for Resource Development (CRD)
United Way of America