Money and Voice

 “Hi, my name is Carol. I’m sorry to arrive late.  I’m part of the foundation that paid to finance this work that brought you here.” (Big Smile)

These were the words of a late arrival at a recent training session in a congregation. I was training facilitators who were about to conduct focus groups as part of a larger planning process.  I thought it was a rather unusual, although not unfamiliar, way for someone to introduce herself to me for the first time. Certainly she wasn’t just trying to provide random identifying information. She could have said that she worked with the church’s foundation, without adding the bit about having “paid for my services”. People often feel compelled to inform me that they had something to do with underwriting my work, and I wonder just what they expect me to do with the information. Are they trying to communicate that I need to honor them, thank them, be careful of them, pay close attention to them…or all of the above?

I realize that this issue isn’t isolated to the consulting role. Those of you who lead large congregations are accustomed to tending the needs of donors who underwrite significant new programs, buildings etc. Like me, you have to figure out to what extent those voices will be allowed to influence decision making in the ministries you lead. You have to figure out to what extent you will allow yourself to be influenced or swayed by the needs and wants of the big donors.

Here is the simple guideline I’ve worked out for myself in my practice, when asked to make special accommodations for financial backers of my work…I don’t do it. A donor only gets to play a role in the process as determined by other attributes of their membership or participation.  A donor only gets to speak with me one on one if they serve in some legitimate role in the congregation that would justify the conversation (other than their role as donor). I don’t do special listening sessions with donors and I don’t advocate that large donors be included on the strategic planning team when their only qualifying virtue is that they are a large donor (although often they do end up getting appointed to the committee before my arrival). For an outside consultant it’s a slippery slope to begin making accommodations in a decision making process; to give greater voice to the important donor.

I’m quite aware that the role of pastor in negotiating the voice of the moneyed member is not quite as cut and dried as mine. You are a teacher, pastoral care provider, and perhaps a friend to your donors. You must continually negotiate the decision making voices of your leaders with the real awareness that some people can make a bigger difference financially than others. So, how do you negotiate this on a day to day basis? What guidelines or boundaries do you establish as you nurture your donor base, so that your significant donors are cared for, but don’t hold too much sway? Post a response and help me understand how this works in your context.

Photo Credit: Voice Within Silence at

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One Response to “Money and Voice”

  1. Christine Robinson Says:

    You’re right…I negotiate a path which keeps large donors donating but not dominating. I think if this as a part of another negotiation; keeping money in its appropriate place as servant, not master. (do you throw young skateboarders off your property because they might fall and that might raise your insurance rates?)

    I have never actually had to deal with the dominating large donor and serve a church which has a very egalitarian mindset…one that keeps us…well…frugal. So I feel much freer to give our larger donors a little more attention and spend more time with them discerning where their desire to give meets the church’s/community’s greatest needs.

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