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Secrecy vs. Confidentiality

As the Orthodox Church in America transitions to a proportional giving model for funding the work of Dioceses and the National Church many parishes are rethinking stewardship on a local basis.

One question/topic that often arise concerns the issue of maintaining confidentiality of parish donation records. We find that a good deal of confusion on this topic exists even among clergy.

The following insights may be helpful...

The book "Good and Faithful Servant - Stewardship in the Orthodox Church" contains a compilation of many fine practical and theoretical articles about Orthodox views on Stewardship. In the book's final article, editor Anthony Scott offers valuable insight on parish practices associated with confidentiality of donor information.

"In many parishes a conspiracy of silence tyrannizes the entire process of giving. Never discuss money. Never reveal what one's self is giving. Never speak to anyone else about giving. Never sensitively and diplomatically announce a major gift publicly. Do not allow to those responsible for the stewardship ministry the necessary access to parishioner giving on a need to know basis. Some clergy proudly announce they do not know or wish to know what anyone is giving lest it create a bias in clergy care. If this is the case perhaps they should not know how often people volunteer or attend church either for fear of favoritism. One parish assigns numbers to families like anonymous Swiss bank accounts so as to preserve absolute secrecy. Other parishes mandate by General Assembly that the parish financial secretary be a non parishioner and that he or she alone is to know what people give. All of this reveals a profound confusion between confidentiality, which is necessary in a fallen world and secrecy which does not exist in the kingdom of God. The Holy Trinity, the Angelic Powers and the communion of the Saints are all witnesses to the most 'private' thoughts of each person. All that we think and do is done in community."

A View from Scripture

Continuing on the "confidentiality vs.secrecy" topic, we recommend the online article Should Giving Always Be Kept Secret? in which the author offers sound scriptural views on the topic.

A few:

  • "Acts 2:45 tells of Christians selling possessions and giving to the needy. Did other people know who had done this? In many cases, the answer would be obvious... These people knew each other. "
  • "Acts 4:32-35 tells us about more people liquidating assets. Most names, which would mean nothing to us, aren’t recorded, but they were surely known at the time."
  • "...some givers were named even for our benefit. Acts 4:36-37 tells us that Barnabas sold a field and brought the money to the feet of the apostles. If Barnabas was looking for status and prestige, his motive was wrong. (Emphasis ours) But it’s certainly false to say that it was wrong for others to be made aware of his gift, because Scripture itself reveals it!"
  • "Jesus says, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Here we are commanded to let men see our good deeds—and not to hide them. Giving is a good deed, isn’t it? This passage and Matthew 6 balance each other. There’s a time for giving to be seen, but only at the right time and for the right reasons."
  • "Numbers 7 lists the names of donors to the tabernacle. First Chronicles 29 tells exactly how much the leaders of Israel gave to build the temple, then it says, “The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord” (1 Chronicles 29:9).

 

Neither author advocates publishing donation lists, embarrassing or pressuring those who are lesser participants in stewardship opportunities, or honoring donors for the purpose of stroking large egos. (As we once long ago uncomfortably witnessed as a hierarch gushed torrents of praise upon a deep pockets donor.) And, we can all agree that the line between good and poor practice may require some discernment.

Nonetheless any good development professional knows that estimates of future giving need to be built from an understanding of past giving. As a result occasions arise which, for practical purposes, selected leaders need to know who has supported the parish in the past and how current efforts are progressing. Averages, statistical breakdowns, aggregates and anonymous info are often not enough.

A few such instances might include:

  • Who could be called upon to speak publicly about their personal stewardship journey, and the joys of gratitude and generosity-- in hopes of motivating or inspiring others to extend themselves?
  • How do we launch our campaign? Who might provide an anchor donation for this new parish effort? In what areas of parish life have they most resonated in the past?
  • How well are we communicating our stewardship message to new parishioners or young families or parish veterans.

Be sensitive and diplomatic -- and mindful of the line between appropriate confidentiality and unnecessary secrecy.