Maybe there is some truth to the story my former boss once told me. He said the best place to post a plaque acknowledging a significant contribution was in the Men’s’ or Ladies’ Bathroom. It would be hard for people to miss it.
Maybe he was right, but most might think – including me – such a move lacks class or decorum.
Recently, I read with interest a New York Times article about the renovation challenges at the main concert hall at Lincoln Center. David Geffen, of music and Hollywood fame, gave a naming gift of $100 million. The renovations are now on hold for a variety of reasons, including fundraising challenges. The cost to complete the project significantly exceed Mr. Geffen’s generous support. And, when I read between the lines in this article, Mr. Geffen’s generosity, and the fact that naming of the project has been given to him, might have scared off other prospects from being supportive in line with their capacity.
Here is a case study to consider:
You are the synagogue president. The rabbi calls to say that Rob and Debbie Levine want to contribute $10 million to your synagogue. Their one request is that the Sanctuary becomes the Albert and Sadie Levine Sanctuary, after Rob’s parents who recently passed away. The sanctuary is in need of some sprucing up- chairs to replace the pews, new carpeting, lighting, a new sound system and painting. The rest of the synagogue is in very good shape. Maybe all of that costs $2 million. Leaving you with an $8 Million Endowment Fund to secure the synagogue’s financial future.
The synagogue has a Tree of Life in the lobby where congregants make gifts of $180, $360, or $540 to buy leaves of various sizes. And there is plaque on the wall by the front door from the capital campaign from 5 years ago listing donors is several giving categories when the synagogue raised $3 million to renovate classrooms and offices and install a new HVAC system. The synagogue bulletin sent by email each month lists all of people who made tribute gifts. And the October Bulletin always lists alphabetically those who contributed to the High Holy Day Appeal.
No other room or area has a name attached to it.
The Levines have been congregants for 20 years. The synagogue and the community are important to them. They felt such strong support when Rob’s parents recently passed. Two years ago, they sold their regional chain of high-end furniture stores, that his father has started, to Berkshire Hathaway. They have done well and want to give back.
Do you honor their request?
All of our congregations should have such problems.
In an earlier blog, I wrote about the push-pull of the egalitarianism of congregational life and the elitism of fundraising. Maybe it is counter intuitive for the Levines to want such recognition because of the synagogue’s low-ley nature and hamishness. But they are feeling generous, and they asked.
A few questions to ponder:
Do you tell the Levines that naming rooms in the building is not a part of the synagogue’s DNA, or culture?
Will you bring this to the board of trustees and have an in-depth discussion about naming, egalitarianism-elitism, and the pros and cons of naming gifts?
Do you think the Levines’ generosity will inspire others to be generous in their giving to the synagogue?
I welcome your thoughts.