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No More Mugs: Seeking Relational Rewards

Last week, I introduced the concept of crowdfunding and considered its potential for congregations and faith-related non-profits. This week, we hear from Abigail Miller, a crowdfunding leader herself! Like Abigail, I’ve questioned the wisdom of crowdfunding’s reliance on what is often called “perks” or “rewards”, gifts sent to those who donated to campaigns. On the other hand, I’ve also known congregations to give mugs to all those who pledge to their annual campaign. In today’s post, Abigail takes up the challenge to reflect on the faithfulness of perks.

Yours truly,

Adam Copeland, Center for Stewardship Leaders

No More Mugs: Seeking Relational Rewards

Abigail Miller

From basketball camps with former NBA stars to smacking pastors in the face with pies, as Manager of Wheat Ridge Ministries’ crowdfunding platform,, I’ve seen projects offer a wide variety of perks and rewards. Perks and rewards are items or experiences that donors receive as a “thank you” for their donation and are an important crowdfunding strategy. Perks guide the amount donors give and, more importantly, build relationships with donors. But what does God say about rewarding those who give?

Questions abound: What about Jesus’ instructions to give in secret? Or, that if we receive rewards on earth, we’re going to miss out on heavenly rewards? Plus, shouldn’t donors give to support the cause, not to get something out of it?

Could it be that a tried and true crowdfunding strategy is blatantly counter to God’s intentions? I’ve concluded it boils down to one question: Are the rewards transactional or relational?

Our God is relational, and I believe that relational perks bring Him great joy. Conversely, I believe transactional rewards may actually go against Jesus’ teaching. So what determines if a reward is relational or transactional? Start by considering these four elements:

  • What the rewards are.

When a project leader shares ideas for perks, we listen closely. Transactional perks are typically tangible, material items, and, once received, the exchange is over. Often, they don’t have anything to do with the work of the ministry, like receiving an autographed baseball after donating to a soup kitchen. On WeRaise, projects are strongly encouraged to steer clear of tchotchke-like mugs and t-shirts (and not just because nobody needs another mug or t-shirt). Conversely, relational perks are typically events or experiences, such as an invitation to a ribbon-cutting ceremony when the funded project opens. If they are material items, they are customized and/or personal. Ideally, the donor’s contact with the mission is deepened or continued because of a relational reward.

  • How the reward engages the donor.

We bless others by inviting them into service because that is what humans are created for. Relational perks engage people in mission! A handwritten postcard from a domestic violence survivor, hand drawn artwork from a student, a video captured at a newly-installed water well; these perks engage donors with the community of the mission they unite. Ask yourself, are the perks meant to convince donors to give? Are you triggering self-serving, materialistic desires and wants? Or are the rewards a genuine means of communicating thanks and inviting them further into the work God is doing?

  • Who gets the glory?

A transactional reward gives glory to the donor; it sends the message that the donor deserves it and should be acknowledged for how generous they are. A relational reward leaves donors humbled; sharing hope and giving God glory by pointing to what He is doing. Such rewards reflect the Body of Christ, utilizing the talents of the community. For example, a church in a low-income area, where they knew financial gifts would be limited, considered perks that leveraged God-given valuable talents of individuals, such as a jazz concert put on by church members.

  • Your motivation.

A transactional reward is motivated by guilt, expectation, or to impress donors. Sometimes project leaders create rewards that create tension, comparison, and guilt between donors (“people will notice if your name isn’t listed with the other donors!”) Instead, a relational reward is one you are excited to give, one you are proud to share with others. The excitement is akin to the excitement of the woman at the well, running into the town telling everyone to come see this man! Relational rewards are motivated by an eagerness to share what God is doing.

So, as you consider rewards, mugs or otherwise, think through the elements above. It could very well be that your mug creates community, reminds people that they are part of something bigger, and invites them to prayerfully submit to a God that is moving.

The concept of transactional vs. relational motivations carries over into all areas of ministry. We have a relational God, and I believe He wants us to run our organizations relationally, including, but not limited to, how we invite and thank our donors.

More Information

Abigail Miller is the Manager of Crowdfunding and Social Media at Wheat Ridge Ministries. Abigail is energized by seeing the creative ways God inspires people to address needs around them, especially through her work with leaders looking to further their impact through crowdfunding on When she’s not biking around town, you can connect with her on Twitter at @AbigailSTL

Stewardship Speaker Series: Join us on campus this summer (June 16, July 21, August 18) for breakfast as we hear from groundbreaking stewardship leaders practicing distinctive, top-notch stewardship. Come to one ever -- or all three! All events are free and open to the public. For more information, and to register, visit

Executive Certificate in Religious Fundraising: Luther Seminary, in partnership with the Lake Institute on Faith and Giving, is hosting a four-day intensive course, October 17-20, 2016. For more information

Author information was updated as of the article's post date. Author profiles may not reflect author's current employment or location.

Mugs image by Adam Bindslev; Creative Commons Image on Flickr.

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