Fueling the Fire of Hope

Our Need to Give

The culture we lived in before the pandemic encouraged us to always be thinking about what we need more of. More clothes, more cars, more food, more vacations, more sex, more things… always more….

And yes, even now, in this pause from business as usual, it is hard to keep our hands off the “I need more” order button.

Wanting to go back to a routine that was at least familiar, that was mostly working, is understandable. It is part of grieving to want to step back into what was.

But we have to be in what is. And we must hope that what will be will become what we dream it to be.

This is Pledge Sunday, the beginning of the campaign for receiving your promises of what you will be able to contribute to UUCSH during the next fiscal year, the one that begins this July and goes until the end of next June. You all make your promises, and then those of you who are members of this congregation vote on a budget that reflects the sum of your pledges. The budget reflects what you as a congregation promise to do with the sum of your pledges and any other income that might be expected. Of course, included in that budget are things like payroll for all the staff, the utilities and mortgage, the annual program fund that this congregation pays to be part of the UUA, and all the dollars needed to support you and what you want to do for yourselves and for others in this community.

It works like this in all UU congregations. You promise what you can contribute. Leaders promise what the church can afford to spend based on your promises of what you can contribute. At the annual meeting, you vote to confirm the handshake, the promised deal you are making for the next church year. 

But here is the rub. The way we have been framing the handshake deal has been—in my opinion—unduly influenced by the culture we have been living in.   

What I mean is, church leaders have gotten caught up in the “we need more” culture.

How often have you heard, “We need more members. We need more kids. We need more volunteers.  We need more money. The church needs more from YOU in order to do more!”

The annual pledge campaign in so many UU congregations has become a few people telling the rest how much more the church needs—the church needs more of your time, more of your talent, and especially more and more of your treasure. 

It is exhausting! And it is no wonder that members in congregations where I have served in the past find ways to avoid the annual “give us more” sermon, or as some leaders have fondly called it, “the annual sermon on the amount.”

So, I have a proposal. How about we take a break from that? How about we rest in the thought that most of us have enough. We don’t need more. We can do what we need to do with the resources we have. In fact, we can do more than we have been doing. We can take care of ourselves AND we can take care of pressing needs not our own. We can take care of ourselves, AND we can help bring about the “adjustments” this culture so desperately needs so that more not only survive, but thrive. From promoting sustainable best practices, to the expansion of voting rights, we can work toward a more equitable distribution of resources that ensures that all those on the edges of society are seen and heard and moved into the center.

We can do all this together as we continue to expand our sense of giving, especially our sense that this is a community of people that one would be wise to invest in.

The message of any—and of this pledge campaign—should not be about what the church needs to receive. It should be about why and what you need to give.

Let’s talk about what motivates us to give. What the church needs to receive will take care of itself.

It seems clear to me that generosity comes from whatever it is that makes a person feel good about themselves. It never results from being made to feel guilty or shamed or less than.

I’m not saying that has in any way been a characteristic of your past pledge drives, but it certainly has been in other congregations, where the focus is on scarcity and fear.    

What makes you feel good about your pledge isn’t the same as what makes everyone feel good. 

There are those who are motivated to practice generosity simply as a response to what they have been given. They respond to what they have been given by giving back. These folks are going to give somewhere, they “tithe” in the sense of taking a percent of what they receive and giving back off the top. Their giving is usually to lots of differing organizations, even individuals. They are motivated by deep sense of being given to by the universe. And they believe that giving back is the right thing to do. All any organization has to do is to give this kind of giver a good reason to give to their organization.

This motivation for giving—and it might be yours—is clearly about the individual’s need to place themselves right in the middle of the circle of generosity. 

There are many UUs who are full of trust in the benevolent universe that gives them life. Grateful for being alive and aware of their blessings no matter what kind of life they live, they choose to be in the world in a way that acknowledges that giving is part of living their lives. As a matter of course, they give back because they have been given to. It is essential to their very being. It is not a matter of obligation, but like breathing, an “of course.” They might call it paying it forward. They might call it a “tithe.” Whatever it is called, people motivated by a trust in the benevolence of the universe give because they are alive. These are the kind of givers who will leave legacies, arranging for ongoing gifts that survive their individual lives, but keep ensuring the circle of generosity.     

These folks—and you may be one—don’t need a pledge campaign to convince them to give. They already do. What they need is a good reason, a compelling reason to give here. They might want to know how lives have been changed, how the world is going to change because this community exists. They want to know what this church gives beyond taking care of its own needs. Continuing the Share 100% of Non-Pledge Payments EVERY Sunday to support those organizations doing the work we value to make this world a better place is a very good reason to folks motivated to be in the center of the circle of generosity to make part of their tithe back here.

Another motivation, which is true for many of us, comes from one’s need to belong. You might be someone who wants to be part of a group that knows you and values your presence. Even more important is the trust you feel for the decisions the group makes. Those decisions have to do with how the group picks its leaders, decides where it is going and why, how to be with and for each other.   

You are motivated to give because you are excited about being part of this group that is going places you want to go. You give because you want to belong, and you recognize that giving is expected from those who belong. All you really need to know is: how much? 

What does it take to be counted “in” the group? The standard of what it takes is whatever the group decides it is. 

So, what is the standard expectation here? You may have noticed in this year’s pledge brochure that the standard expectation has been simplified. After some study of the wider community and who has and will be attracted to this liberal faith, a “standard” was set to 3.5% of Annual Gross Income. 

Those givers who are motivated by wanting to belong want to know what is expected of them to be part of the group. Telling folks motivated by wanting to belong what the church needs to receive isn’t giving them the answer to the question they are asking. 

Their question is simply: “What does it take for me to be a part of this group that is going where I want to go to?” You have an answer now: 3.5% of AGI. Look at your tax return. There is a line that shows what the IRS considers to be your AGI. Multiply by 3.5%, divide by 12. That is the standard expectation for a monthly pledge for those of you who just want to know what it takes to be “in” at UUCSH.

The group trusts you to figure out if that is where you already are in your giving, or if it is a goal you might need a few years to reach, or if you are already exceeding it. At least now you know what it takes to be part of this group of givers who trust each other to set an expectation. 

There is a third motivation that moves people to give. There are those who—and you might be one—are not motivated by living within the wider circle of generosity, and not primarily motivated by belonging to this gang. Instead they are motivated by an internal sense of integrity. Giving has to do with a sense of honor. They feel motivated to pay a fair price for what they have received.

You might be motivated by honor, if it is your practice to look over the detailed budget. Perhaps you get your calculator up and running. What you are looking for is not necessarily enlightenment about how the church is spending its “income,” but rather a fair price. If this is you, you are trying to figure out a fair price for what you have or will use. What does what your use cost? If you can figure it out, you will pay that as a matter of honor.

Those motivated by honor are eager to pay for what they have consumed. For them, giving is a matter of equal exchange, of a fair price. They are very motivated to erase a debt they owe, to bring it all back to equity as often as possible. They simply want a way to assign value to a service they have, or that they expect to receive. These kinds of givers want to know what the part of congregation life in which they participate costs. Paying for what they have used is important to them. UU congregations don’t make it easy to figure this out.    

What does it cost to have a minister who spends an hour with you on the phone? What was the cost of your favorite guest preacher, the one you heard last fall? What is a fair price for the two virtual services you watched in the past month? How much should you pay for the cup of coffee you had, the day the heat was on, and the bathroom was clean and stocked with supplies? I took an order of service, but I put it back when the service was over. And I parked my car near the building, on the street. Of course, there are various ways to figure out how much what you have used costs. If this is your motivation for giving, to maintain a sense of honor, returning to a balance between what you use and what you owe, call me. I am happy to help you know what a fair price would be. 

I strongly believe that we don’t give enough attention those who would gladly exchange what they earn for what they receive.

What is your primary motivation for giving?

Perhaps your primary motivation is not the same as your life partner’s! My wife is motivated by seeing herself within the circle of generosity. The universe gave; she gives.

I may be more sensitive to paying for what we have received.

So, we need to have a conversation….  

Do you understand your pledge as a tithe that says who you are? 

Do you give to be part of the team that’s going where you want to go?

Do you make a contribution equal to the measure of what you have received?   

We are probably all motivated in one degree or another by all of these reasons, be it our internal sense of who we are, or our desire to join in, to go with and where our team is going, or as an equal exchange for the services that we have received.   

These various motivations reveal the diversity in our reasons for giving. You may be most motivated by one reason or another, or by some combination of two, or even three. The point is we don’t all possess the same motivation, or the same combination of motivations for giving.

If you have discovered that you are motivated by a deep sense of giving back because of having received, you may want to consider adjusting what you pledge to UUCSH, noting that the values this congregation lives into in its giving may now better reflect your own.  

If you feel moved to be part of the gang going where this gang is going, all you have to do is make a pledge at or near the standard expectation.     

If you’re among those motivated by a sense of honor, your individual sense of integrity, consider what is likely to be a fair price for a worship service that includes great music, a message that moved you, and in ordinary circumstances heat, or A/C, lights, a piano, cushioned seats, and childcare. What is a fair price for someone who listens to you, visits when you aren’t well, who will officiate your next wedding, or lift up your legacy when your time comes? I can help you figure that out.   

I am asking you to consider making your pledge based on what motivates you to give. I am trusting that you will do your best to carefully consider if your pledge is in line with what motivates you to give.

If you appreciated this reflection, please text to give or visit our Give Now page to support the UUCSH Share the Plate efforts to assist those in need.