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How Should We Recognize Contributors?

Most not-for-profit organizations depend upon gifts from individuals for the funding to survive and thrive. A look around the publications and the buildings of these organizations demonstrates that publicly recognizing donations plays an important role in the process of fundraising. There are many considerations that arise as a result. A few of the most important are the spiritual and personal reasons for anonymous giving, the importance of honoring good deeds and the value of setting an example for subsequent contributors.

The following is an excerpt from my books, A Guide to Jewish Practice: Tzedaka and A Guide to Jewish Practice: Everyday Living about balancing the prinicple of anonymity with recognizing contributors for their donation:

While anonymous giving is useful when giving directly to individuals, remaining anonymous has value solely for personal spiritual reasons when the gift is going to an organization. That value must be weighed against the value in publicly announcing givers and the size of their gifts. When gifts are announced, generous givers help to set an example that encourages others to give generously. Furthermore, knowing that others will be aware of a gift encourages people to give at a level of which they can be proud. Most people do not want to be seen as doing less than their share. And the positive reinforcement that follows the announcement of a gift encourages the giver to think positively about making future commitments. For all of these reasons, announcing gifts to roganizations is viewed positively by most traditional Jewish sources (e.g., Moshe Isserles, Yoreh Dea 249.13). Providing both verbal and written recognition is helpful, and using one should not exclude the other.

One of the dangers raised by recognizing large givers is that those who do not have major financial means can be under-recognized. It is important to be fair to other givers by taking care to recognize sacrificial giving when it comes from people of modest means as well. In organizational settings, just as important is recognizing those who contribute time and effort. This group is equally essential to organizational success, and ways of honoring volunteers and employees must be sought. Failure to recognize the contributions of others is a form of g’neyvat da’at; it robs them of recognition and appreciation that they have earned.

When honoring givers, the awards for giving should not be so large that they undermine the development of givers who give for the sake of giving. Is is the responsibility of planners to ensure that the recognition of gifts is tasteful and that the recognition does not distract from the purposes for which the gift is given.

Often givers are legitimately induced to give by the nature of a particular project—obtaining a Torah, redecorating a youth lounge or providing scholarships, for example. When the gift is for a specific purpose, the giver’s name or that of a loved one can be associated with the gift by announcement, plaque or name. This may be used as an inducement to make the gift. Once such an association occurs, every effort should be made to ensure that the name of the giver is not lost. When the money is used up, the object is worn out, or circumstances dictate that it no longer be used, care must be taken to handle the change in a way trhat is minimally hurtful to the donor. Often this can involve preserving a plaque at a different location, such as an institutional archive or museum.

How do you feel about being recognized for your contributions? Tell us below!

David Teutsch

Rabbi David A. Teutsch is the Wiener Professor of Contemporary Jewish Civilization and director of the Center for Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, where he served as president for nearly a decade. His book A Guide to Jewish Practice: Everyday Living has won the 2012 National Jewish Book Award for Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice.

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