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Don’t Let Your Right Hand Know What Your Left Hand is Doing

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In the last month, I’ve been on the campuses of three Christian colleges. I noticed that every one had buildings named after their donors. I was immediately reminded of Jesus words in Matthew.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4

So, how do Christian institutions justify putting the names of donors on buildings or publicly identifying a major donor of a lead gift, when Jesus clearly says, do not do that!

The answer is obvious. Christian colleges, ministries and even churches encourage donors to name buildings, athletic fields or scholarships because they can raise more money if they do. It works!

So, let’s talk about how some have tried to justify this fundraising gimmick and what you can do to discourage it. An inconvenient truth I’ve met with the leadership of a number of ministries or schools over the years to challenge them on this practice. Invariably, they will respond this way; “We don’t have a problem with Matthew 6, because the donor is the one who must make that choice. If they believe it’s wrong, then they shouldn’t do it.”

The second reason often given by development people is that it encourages other people to give if they know a big-time Christian business person, supports their institution.

I always begin with this question. “But, what do you personally believe Jesus is teaching in this passage?” I want to hear if they are hearing the same thing as I am. Most admit Jesus’ teaching is fairly clear. Christians should give privately and anonymously, if they hope to please God.

If that’s what they say they believe, then my second set of questions are usually these, “When you offer naming possibilities or even allow them to do so, aren’t you tempting fellow Christians to violate a clear teaching of Jesus? And, do you really think God gives us a ‘bye’ on a clear teaching of Jesus, if it encourages other people to donate?”

At that point, it generally gets very uncomfortable, because they know how much money they have, and can raise by appealing to the ego’s of wealthy Christians and they hate being reminded of this inconvenient truth. I had one development person actually walk out of a meeting at that point.

By the way, I don’t think there’s a problem naming buildings after a great professor, or college president, or ministry founder – someone they wish to honor. Just not the donor.

I’ve also seen buildings donated by a family, who didn’t put their own names on it, but the name of a family patriarch. But everyone knows where the money came from and it probably wasn’t the dead guy! So, that’s only a variation of naming the building after yourself.

In all fairness, most of the ministries we’ve spoken to about this practice, hadn’t really given the subject much thought. The practice is so wide spread, that it’s just assumed to be acceptable to the Christian community. It shouldn’t be.

Addressing the Problem Here’s a policy Susan and I have adopted on this subject.

1. We will not give to any ministry, school or church who uses the “naming” technique for fundraising, once we let them know what we believe on the subject. 2. We will not give to any ministry or school that lists donors by category. (i.e. Gold, Platinum Donors, or Lead Gift, etc.) We don’t mind if names of all donors are listed to show who supports this ministry. But then the million-dollar donor should be listed right alongside of the $5.00 donor. No distinctions. 3. We will not give to ministries that honor a large donor publicly at a banquet or other events. 4. We try to educate ministries and friends about what we believe the Bible teaches about giving in secret. Therefore, consider forwarding this to friends who sit on ministry boards or who are generous donors.

The truth is, a ministry will probably raise less money if they adopt a no naming policy. Appealing to vanity, generally raises more money. Nevertheless, according to my reading of Matthew 6, it’s wrong and God neither values the gift, nor gives credit to the giver. The purposes of God can never be accomplished by violating a clear teaching of God.

How following Jesus works in real life.

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