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Should Donors Be Upset About The New Crystal Cathedral Owners Removing Their Names?

Now that Pastor Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral has been sold to the Catholic Church, big changes are happening. For instance, it’s being reported that a walkway constructed of bricks with engraved names of Crystal Cathedral donors is being pulled up to make way for new landscaping. Although the new owners are making the bricks available to donors who would like to claim them, it’s still causing an uproar among many former donors. I’ve seen similar stories at other nonprofits and ministries where walls with donor names have been torn down, or other structures honoring donors have been remodeled and changed. In every case, donors get upset and make a stink.

Well here’s my advice to these donors: Get a life.  After all, why did you give in the first place? To build something significant for God and for humanity, or to get your name engraved on a sidewalk brick?

The truth is, most of these ministries knew what they were getting into back in the 70’s and 80’s. They knew that people loved recognition, so they named college buildings after donors, or created special gifts or “ministry premiums” for donations – and how many ministries have you seen with the big tree painted on the lobby wall with donor names on the leaves? It was a two way addiction – ministries wanted the money, and donors wanted to be recognized.

Maybe it’s time for a donor reset. Let’s rethink why we give and what our expectations should be. The era of the 70’s and 80’s was the prosperity theology period when people were erroneously taught that God will bless you (when you give to my ministry of course.) The truth is, God does bless givers, but that’s not why we should give. It’s not about getting our names on a plaque, it’s about making a difference.

If we could get that message out there, just think of how much donor money could be diverted from creating plaques, and re-directed toward actually doing good?


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  1. I would encourage them to accept their bricks with grateful hearts. Their investment built a ministry that lasted for 30 or 40 years and that is a wonderful ROI. Now that it has been purchased by the donations of others, it is ok for them to make changes. When people invest in the ministry I serve with, they invest in lives and hearts changed into the image of Christ. They receive letters and are invited to pray. There are many types of ministries to give to, but the purpose of giving is to acknowledge our dependence on our Savior for the resources He has given us. Let us honor Him with our heart, mind, soul and strength.

  2. The fund raiser did it. I mean that. Someone promised these people that if they gave a gift to build this, their name (or their grandma’s name) would be there forever. Legacy. The people have the right to expect that they get what was promised. The CC ministry is at fault here. It never occurred to them or their fund raisiers that one day, they could lose the building. Those words would never have been spoken back in the day.

    To Phil’s broader point, that people should not give just to get their name on something: That’s fair. But the reason we as fund raisers have to mail 14 times a year to get 2.5 gifts from a committed donor, or offer bronze bird or a name on a wall forever is … it works. I don’t like it, but it is hard to ignore that data that shows this works.

    It is hard enough to do our job with the needed ROI using our knowledge of what makes people respond without taking these things out of our tool box.

    Until the church matures and gives Biblically without some one reminding or appealing to their felt needs, folks like me will stay very busy.

    PS: I was wondering, Phil, if I gave a nice gift to your non profit, could I get my name and website on the wall of Cooke Pictures 🙂

  3. Though the LORD is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar. Psalm 138:6

    Ehh about my brick, you go ahead an keep it…

  4. It’s a little weird that the donors would want their brick to stay in place when the ministry there no longer represents what they gave to. I tend to agree with Phil, get a life.

    On the bigger issue of incentives to give, I think that incentive-based giving creates marginally committed donors if that’s the only basis for giving. If I get a donor to give based on some sort of incentive I better darn well have a cogent communication strategy to move them into a long term supporter. But alas, the overwhelming majority of organizations fail miserably at that.

  5. I echo many of the great commenters below. You can’t blame the former donors. They paid for recognition and they should expect to get it. Especially if that’s what was advertised. To have their names taken away terminates their gift… and their reward. CC should either commit to keep the names, or they should advertise up front that future donors may have their reward cheapened by losing their public recognition. Of course, those who seek God’s reward don’t have these concerns, right?

  6. Ten years ago I read one of Robert Schuller’s books where he talks about planting a certain type of tree on the Crystal Cathedral campus that takes over fifty years to grow to full height. He mentions that the trees will not be fully mature until long after he is dead. I was impressed with his foresight and planning. But now it feels horribly tragic that his vision and legacy is being dug up. If only raising up competent successors was as easy as planting trees.

  7. What was the purpose of the gift? They supported a ministry that they believed in. To leave them in place now would give a perceived endorsement of the new ministry. Seems to me, that would be worse than seeing the bricks removed and given back. I would question why CC did not take them and honor their donors in some new way if possible or give them back.

    I’m with Mary on this one, the CC is the one who is as fault and the lack of forsight in where this legacy gift could end up is the real issue. The new owners have every right to do what they want, but those who the Donors trusted are ultimately responsible for how these legacy gifts were managed and its sad that they did not make the effort to ensure that these heartfelt gifts were recognized upon the decision to sell the property. Yes, the organization was a mess, but it seems that a high priority of those who have supported CC all these years should have been considered even during the worst of times.

  8. “Get a life.”

    Wow, nice put-down. Usually used by someone who is less concerned about any given issue, than is the person being addressed.

    Boy, you put them in their place!

  9. There is a stone there in memory of my brother. He was a supporter of the ministry and our father and brother in law were on staff. Where his stone is, it’s not likely to be touched. It is a memory. Just like a headstone on a grave. He didn’t live in California, but we felt it was a good thing to honor him with that! The money was used well…..I just happened to be in California last week and stopped there as my parents are buried there as well as my brother in law. I spoke to a woman who is in charge of the stones and they are planning to call anyone whose stone was removed to see if they would like it. They could put it in their garden, as a memorial there. She was very, very, considerate and they believe they want to keep the integrity of the grounds. They even have the same architecht that the CC used to make their changes. It’s still a Christ honoring church.
    I also found out that the only stones that were removed were the ones that were likely to be ruined by the equipment they were using to make the changes they wanted. Let’s not be so critical and condeming!…Love covers all!

  10. I understand your point, Phil, but I do know many of these donors, and the ones who are feeling the most angst are those who placed the stone in honor of someone deceased. It’s a place they go to remember, much like a headstone in a cemetery, especially for those whose loved one’s burial plot is either far away or nonexistent (cremation / scattering). I’ve worked for the ministry for nearly 20 years and we’ve replaced other donated items (seats, for example) and didn’t get this reaction. There’s a lot of loss going on for people of an elderly age in this ministry, who may have married there, raised their kids their, said goodbye to deceased loved ones there. They are actually adjusting well considering their season of life filled with much more loss than those of us who are younger. Also, the majority of the donors haven’t responded at all, so most do look at their donations as you describe. Somewhat echoing your advice to the heartbroken donors to “Get a life,” I might suggest to you that you “Get a heart.”

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