Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Does It Matter How You Tithe?

Our parish is deploying "e-giving", and asking people to strongly consider setting up a weekly or monthly electronic donation rather than getting envelopes. (If you sign up for the e-giving, they stop mailing you envelopes.)

The benefits for the parish are pretty obvious: the expense of sending out envelopes to nearly a thousand families are pretty high, this regularizes their income and makes it smoother and more predictable, etc. In my case, there's actually an additional incentive to give electronically -- if I have the money deducted directly from my paycheck through my company's charitable giving campaign, they'll match my donations, doubling the amount.

I have a certain amount from each paycheck set up to be sent to the parish through the corporate matching program, but up till now I've been hesitant to do all our tithing that way. There are two reasons for this:

1) When donations are made via withholding, it becomes nearly invisible to us, our income is simply lower. It seems to me that there is probably some personal and moral value in accepting the discipline of having to set aside some of the money that actually hits our bank account for the parish and other donation recipients, rather than simply having it all happen out of our sight. The fact that we could simply use the cash some other way in a tight pay period seems like it makes the action more real.

2) As parents, we're not simply doing things for our own benefit, we also have to be conscious of how our actions model what we believe is moral living to our children. They're already required to put a portion of their allowances into the collection basket each week, but it seems like it is probably also good for them to see us actually writing a check to put in the basket. I remember being staggered at seeing my father write checks for what seemed to me princely sums such as $25 when I was a child, and having looked over my dad's shoulder as a child when he was writing checks before mass or during the sermon gave me a sense of what was expected of me when I was living on my own. I wouldn't want the kids to think that giving money to the church is one of those things which children are required to do but adults don't bother with -- and having them sit down with me once a year to set up charity witholding and file my taxes does not seem like a substitute for actually seeing one's parents spend real money every week on supporting the parish.

I see a certain value to 1), but I think it's easily outweighed by the fact that my employer would double my donations. The parish getting twice as much money seems a fairly major incentive. However, I'm not sure how much weight to give to 2). I'm strongly conscious of the fact that while we as adults have difficulty feeling the same about more abstract processes such as electronic tithing via paycheck witholding, it's necessarily entirely invisible to children. And I put a very high value on forming our children correcting in Christian living.

Thoughts? Has anyone else struggled with this question, and what sort of resolution did you come to, for what reasons?


TC said...

Hmm . . .

I've pledged to charities and had them carried out electronically but "e-giving" seems inappropriate at the parish level. As you say, there is a discipline to giving every week -- and that accusing empty envelope next Sunday if you have missed the previous.

Besides everything you mention the flip side would be for the parish to get everyone signed up for e-giving and no longer care if the pews were filled or not.

Catholic Bibliophagist said...

I'm not sure how to answer your question about e-tithing vs. the concrete example to children of dropping the envelope in the basket. But I will recount a rather amusing side effect from my previous parish's attempt to institute electronic donations. They assured people that when e-giving they could have the option of depositing an empty envelope into the basket so that other people would not think that they were merely refraining from donating. (They must have thought that preventing embarrassment would cause enough people to sign up for e-giving to outweigh the cost of still supplying envelopes.)

Darwin said...


Actually, when I expressed by concerns about the kids to the fellow at the e-giving table, he responded that they are printing up special "I give electronically" cards which will be available in the back of the church for anyone who wants to pick one up and drop it in the basket instead of an envelope.

Somehow, that didn't really address my concern.

Anonymous said...

e-giving just doesn't feel right to me. No real reason, just rubs me the wrong way somehow.

About envelopes - we use 'em, but why for goodness sake? What's wrong with folding a check, or if you must use an envelope, why not a plain white one from home? Why should the parish waste $$$ on envelopes?

Same goes for bulletins. Sure seems like it would be cheaper to print them right there at the parish. We already have a secretary and a copy machine, how hard would it be? Why pay some out-of-state company to mail us our bulletins?

Blog on life insurance & I'll really give you a rant's worth...

Margaret Mary said...

On the envelope vs. check-in-the-basket option: Typically your tithing envelopes have some kind of code number that links the gift to your family. This makes it easier for your parish to issue a donation statement at the end of the year.

On a witness to your children: Does your parish give tithing envelopes to children, perhaps through your RE program? OSV has some really nice ones you can purchase for your own use. As your children are filling theirs out each week, simply tell they about all the ways you've given of your time, talent, and treasure.

Having said that, we also have the electronic option but chose to stay with the envelopes. Each pay period offers it's own little opportunity for the act of faith that writing that check brings.

Rebekka said...

Since when is tithing the same as a Mass offering? I pay my church tax electronically every month, but I also put cash in the basket.

Benjamin Espen said...

My parish recently rolled out the e-giving program as well. I like the envelopes for the same reasons you do Darwin, but I think it also nice to see all the envelopes going in the basket every week, it helps makes the parish seem more alive. Outward signs of inward grace and all that.

Jules at FCTS said...

My sister does it electronically. Once she decided to throw in a check, and her teenage daughter couldn't figure out what she was doing. The kids were aware they gave sort of, but they'd missed out on seeing it and it had never "clicked" what that meant.

Darwin said...


Since when is tithing the same as a Mass offering? I pay my church tax electronically every month, but I also put cash in the basket.

Since there's no church tax in the US (I'm assuming this is government administered in Denmark as in several other European countries?) the main source of funds for US parishes is the weekly collection. They sometimes also have a capital fund for building and accept legacies, but it's the primary source of operational revenue.

Emily J. said...

The matching gift option is a strong plus for giving electronically. I'm sure if you talked to your priest, he could figure out a pretty good argument to assuage your conscience about not putting the weekly check in the basket - in addition, you help those generous people who give their time to count, sort, and record donations. Our parish doesn't have the option to egive, because they use envelopes to make sure you come to church enough to qualify for in-parish tuition discounts, but if they did I would sign up for it because I am forever forgetting my envelopes. I like Rebekkah's advice to tithe electronically, but give cash weekly to set an example for your children. Plus, that could involve the extra sacrifice of the tax deduction, if you don't track your cash donations.

Rebekka said...

Sorry, we call it "kirkeskat" which means church tax and I just plopped that over to English without thinking about it. It is a tithe. Actually the Catholic Church in Denmark has tried, without success, to get a direct deposit thing going so that it goes through the tax guys, just like the Danish Folkekirke, but the government refuses to let them. As it is, it's a private arrangement that each person makes with the church and you set up a bank transfer at intervals throughout the year. The Church here is in deficit and desperately dependent upon parishioners (as opposed to the Folkekirke, whose priests are government employees and are thus paid for by everyone's taxes, including mine).

Regardless of these monthly payments, though, I always put something in the collection basket. The tithe goes to the Church as a whole here - part of it is redistributed to the parish I belong to - but I suppose I've always considered it to be something different than the "offering" we make at Mass.

Becca said...

If our parish offered this as an option, we'd take it. Unfortunately, we are just not very organized people, and our soon-to-be six kids haven't helped us much. I often forget to grab the checkbook when we're on our way out the door. This means that there are lots of Sundays where we are literally just digging out loose pocket change for the basket.

We try to "make it up" in our check on the days I remember to bring it, but I often worry that it doesn't even out. As far as the envelopes go, I gave up trying to remember those years ago. I realize that we are perhaps on the extreme end of forgetful families, but I really do wish we had a way to give every week in a more consistent manner (i.e. that we could use some program to force us into it, rather than needing to rely on our terrible memories.)

Anonymous said...

I don't have kids, so that's not an issue, but we just write a big check once a year, usually when my husband gets a bonus or after our tax refund. We figure out how much we are going to give to charity, aiming for ten percent of pre-tax income (haven't gotten there yet), and then allocating it among our favorite causes and the Catholic Church and ELCA (my husband's denomination). We each also have a certain amount of discretionary money to give throughout the year for ad-hoc causes (friends raising money for MS by doing the 150 mile ride, for example).

I'm not giving so someone else can watch me do it. But it does feel a little odd to pass the basket on without throwing something in it.

HBanan said...

I signed up for the e-tithe and have never looked back. I only use checks to pay for rent, so I'd forget to make out a check for Mass most weeks. Sadly, there is no debit card option attached to the church basket, so I would usually just throw in my loose change or maybe a dollar if I happened to have cash for once. Now I am actually able to donate a significant amount to help my parish.

The collection basket is a great thing as a symbol, and I guess it's a nice teaching tool too, but I think you could teach your kids the value of tithing just as well using the electronic kind. If you write a check, it's not like they know what the amount is unless you show them. Maybe you would be writing a $2 check for all they know. You may as well just do what is convenient.

I guess your kids are quite young still, but I think explaining paycheck withholding could be a cool personal finance lesson as well as a tithing lesson. Would the amount withheld be printed on your paycheck? You could show that to your kids, and also explain Social Security & taxes.

I think you should make your kids do your taxes with you. Heck, get some extra forms from the library & make them file a 1040-EZ for their allowance and calculate their charitable donations over the year. Then they will see that their donations are insufficient for the itemized deductible to be more helpful than the standard deductibles, but that it doesn't matter because they are in the lowest of tax brackets. Wow, I will be such a great mom someday! Already thinking of family fun activities.

the other Sherry said...

Several years ago we set up a separate checking account for charitable giving. Our tithe gets transferred to that account, and then distributed from there. (Makes things easier at tax time to find all the charitable donations in one place.)

We do almost all of our giving electronically. We have several charities (including our parish) and missionaries that we are committed to supporting regularly; we have most of it set up to be done automatically - monthly, quarterly, or annually in some cases. We do the primary budgeting for this about once a year, aiming to automatically donate about 80% of our charitable giving, leaving some unspecified so it can be used for more spur-of-the-moment giving.

When extraordinary needs come up that we want to contribute to, we do it out of that account - transferring more from the regular checking account if needed.

Usually in December we review what is left in the account and send it out - aiming to pretty much drain the account at least once a year.

For teaching our kids about handling money, including giving, we're using (though not right now while in Poland on sabbatical, and with some modifications) a program called KidsWealth. One caveat for that program: you need a SECURE place to keep the kids' money wallets (i.e. somewhere where larcenous or just curious younger siblings can't get at it). Just sayin'....

Jenny said...

I think it is a similar dilemma when using plastic to pay at the store. I try to emphasize to my girls that swiping the plastic is not magic, but a promise to pay. And we do get the bill and pay it at the end of the month.

As for church giving, I like writing the check. I like the weekly decision of giving money again and again. The girls also like putting the envelope in the basket. Many times they will want to give their own money (too young for allowance) when they get a gift. I think it reinforces the habit of giving.

nicole said...

If your company matches, I think that it is a no-brainer to sign up for e-giving. We sometimes write a check and sometimes Husband has a check sent via online banking, so our kids don't always see us give. I think you can explain to your children that you give money to the church, just not in the basket and they will accept that. And I'm sure there are opportunities to do additional giving that teaches them the same lesson. The only bump I see is that unexpected second collection some weeks, when I'm caught off guard and don't have my checkbook or cash and feel bad that I can't give. I need a good solution for that.

Meredith said...

I appreciate the visual of teaching your children to give because we do the same. We went back to cash living (for almost everything) when we realized that our son didn't understand that a swipe of the debit card costs money from our family.

However, I suspect that our kids' finances will be almost totally electronic. Let me know if you invent a strategy to get the concrete lesson of cash/enevelopes from the modern example of e-giving.

I would love to have the best of both worlds.