November 17, 2013: “Why Do People Give?”

Posted on : Nov 14th, 2013 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Giving is kind of a “touchy topic.” Some people love to talk about giving; others hate it.

Believe it or not, the “Why we give” has changed.  There’s an interesting new book out called “Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate.”  It’s about the changes in “Giving” that have occurred in the United States.  For example, in 1995 (just 18 years ago) there were 600,000  “501(c)(3)s” – the federal designation of a non-profit organization.  Of those 600,000 a little more than half, 370,000 were churches.  By 2006 (11 years later) there were 1.8 million nonprofit organizations of which 370,000 were churches!

In 1985. churches received 53% of all charitable giving.  By 2000 the percent had dropped below 40% and it continues to fall.  As Clif Christopher, author of “Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate” shows, “People have the money and they continue to give.  Religion is just no longer their charity of choice.”

So why do people give?  Researchers have found five reasons:

1.  Because the Mission of an organization changes people’s lives.  If an organization changes people’s lives for the better, people give.

2.  They have a high regard for the Leadership of the organization.  When leaders of an organization take risks, stand up for the marginalized, reach out and include those who are not included, people give to support those values.

3.  Because of the Financial Stability of an organization.  Most people want to give to an organization that has a vision for its future and that is actively working to “live into” the future.

4.  People give when they see that their giving was well spent. In fact, study after study shows that people give more when they trust that their money will be used well.

5.  People give to people – not for programs.  Special appeals for relief, such as are happening now for the people of the Philippines are a perfect example.  People will give much more when they know it is going to help people rather than to support the budget of an organization.  What one has to be careful of, as one of the major “relief organizations” discovered a few years ago when people gave to the relief efforts in Haiti, is that people want their money to go to people, not 50% for people and 50% to sustain the organization.

As I look at these five reasons people give, I feel we do most of them pretty well at West Hollywood Church.  We certainly change people’s lives for the better – both ours and others.  We have pretty fine leadership – and have for about the last 60 years!  Rev. Ross Greek, Chris Glaser, Rev. Peg Beissert, Me, Rev. Lisa Bove, Rev. Donn Crail, our fabulous music team:  Mark Abulencia, Priscilla Medina, Deb Nishimura; and Laurie who is the most person-centered administrative assistants in the world.  We have one of the most creative leadership teams of any church that I know!

And our gifts are well spent.  We don’t waste five cents around here, and we get more out of a dollar than most.  And of course, if nothing else, West Hollywood Church is about people.  We give to people.  We give sack lunches to the homeless and hungry, we offer extravagant welcome to all those who have been turned away by other churches and religions, we have spirit-filled worship that  includes some of the most personal prayers ever offered in a “church” and we proclaim the radically inclusive love of Jesus and the call to be agents of change in our world.  Each week at the conclusion of the service you see the words, “Changing Lives… that’s our Church’s Mission.”

So this Sunday we’re going to celebrate the many ways we give.    The scripture lesson for Sunday is one many of us have heard before.   It’s the story of a poor widow who gives two coins – all that she has.  What you may not know is this is one of the most controversial stories Jesus tells.  As Miriam Winter writes, “This story is paradigmatic of several contemporary justice issues, notably, the inequality between haves and have-nots, and the feminization of poverty.   Consider the irony of a poor woman giving her all to the wealthy, male-dominated religious institution, with inadequate recompense.”

But I think there is also something more to this woman’s giving.  It’s probably based on one of the five reasons people give, listed above.  And amazingly, this is a story that keeps re-playing itself over and over again.  In fact, just last week I experienced it again when walking from the church to the store to buy bread for Communion.

More on Sunday!



~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

Luke 2: 1-4

Jesus sat watching people put money into the temple treasury.    The rich were usually generous.  Then Jesus saw an impoverished widow putting in her two small coins.  He called to his disciples and said:  “This poor widow’s gift is worth far more than all other contributions, for they gave of their abundance from the money they had left over, while she gave all the money she had from the little she had to live on.”

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