Givers to religious causes are receiving gifts and other perks by religious fund-raisers — a practice that is drawing criticism from theologians and ethicists.
The Wall Street Journal (March 10) reports that religious fund-raisers and prominent ministries have taken a page from secular charities that award finacial donors with gifts of anything from plaques with their names on them to papal audiences. Such organizations as Campus Crusade for Christ and World Vision have given wealthy donors super bowl tickets and safari trips to Africa.
Campus Crusade used to offer donors about four trips a year a decade ago; last year it orchestrated 150 trips, reports Lisa Miller. The Philadelphia-based Papal Foundation — a group of 51 donors that include Domino’s Pizza Inc. founder Thomas Monaghan — get the chance to meet the pope.
Other religious charities, such as the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, have shepherded donors into special fraternities with their own activities and privileges. All this has led some religious leaders and theologians to ask “if the poor are supposed to be blessed, why are the rich getting special treatment?”
Others charge that the trend could stratify congregations in a similar way to the practice of prominent members renting pews before the turn of the century. One thing is certain: the new “sweet sell” by religious charities is paying off in getting and keeping donors. More than a fourth — $80 million — of Campus Crusade’s 1998’s $303 million in U.S. donations came from 2,000 donors who gave $5,000.
In 1997, the donors gave just $56 million.