Dysfunctional Donors

Q: We have a major financial donor in our small congregation. When she’s happy, her pledge is increased by a significant amount and the church receives special gifts. When she’s dissatisfied, her pledge is reduced and favors are withdrawn. Our benefactor has recently expressed her disapproval of decisions that were made by two of the church committees. She’s threatening to cut her pledge in half. How should church officers respond?

A: “As difficult as it may be, make time to talk with the donor about the situation,” says the Rev. Tracey Robinson-Harris, the Unitarian Universalist Association Director of Congregational Services. “While you value the support of this individual, both financial and otherwise, leaders need to continue to make decisions that they feel are in the best interests of the congregation as a whole. Tell her clearly that the congregation benefits from and appreciates her support; that she is a valued member; that you are sorry she feels it necessary to consider reducing her pledge for the reasons she has stated; and invite her to reconsider her financial support for the good of the whole congregation. Thank her for her financial support in whatever amount it may be. Your challenge is to maintain the relationship, remember that gratitude matters, and to let this person know that you will not allow her to use generosity or threats in ways that could be harmful.”

About the Author

  • Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

For more information contact interconnections@uua.org.

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