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I'm interested in answers from all religions/denominations. (Please identify which you're talking about.)

I grew up going to a Roman Catholic church. Collection baskets were passed at Sunday services -- once for the church and, often, a second time for a special purpose (ranging from helping $disaster victims to buying a pipe organ). Members of the congregation were issued envelopes with an identifying number (not name) on the outside, so you could put cash in and still get a tax receipt at the end of the year. Children in religious school were also issued (small) envelopes; they were also numbered and I assume our coins were tallied with our parents' envelopes, but I never asked. Of course, some people (like visitors) just put cash directly into the basket, too.

This always struck me as dicey; how could an organization with regular expenses like heat and salaries and a building manage finances that way, other than by assuming that this year will be like last year? It occurs to me now that there might have also been a pledge system that I, as a child, never saw, but I'm just guessing here.

One of the things I found really refreshing about synagogues is that they have dues. When I found out about this I did a little happy-dance. Yay, no more guesswork! Join the congregation, get a bill, pay it, and everything's good. Right? (Aside: we couldn't pass a basket at Shabbat services even if we wanted to, because doing business and handling money are forbidden on Shabbat.)

Now that I've been part of congregational life for a while, though, I've realized that that's not the end of it by far. There are still special appeals, of course (we help $disaster victims too, after all), but there are also endowment campaigns, special appeals to supplement dues, fancy fund-raising dinners (with ad books, to draw contributions from non-members/businesses), and a myriad of other fund-raising activities. (I know that some congregations have a building fund with its own rules for member payments; we don't, so I don't really know how this works.) There are also fees for certain activities; the biggie here is religious school, which is a separate payment on top of dues.

My congregation -- and I assume this is true pretty much everywhere -- never turns anybody away for lack of ability to pay dues. We'll negotiate a reduced rate, sometimes quite nominal. Some of the other fund-raising is specifically to offset that. A draw from the endowment each year also offsets some expenses. I don't know if the proportion of our expenses paid for by dues is public information so I won't say, but we try to reduce that proportion by building the endowment -- through fund-raising, of course.

All of this makes me wonder when we risk hitting the point of "fund-raising fatigue" for members (I didn't grow up with this as normal so my perspective is unreliable), and what the mix of dues to fund-raising tends to be like elsewhere, and what other (fiscally-responsible) approaches are out there. What do others do? Are synagogues unique in having dues, or do churches have that too (perhaps packaged differently)? If you're a member of a church, does someone sit down with you and say "we expect you to donate $X this year"?

So, readers who belong to congregations of any sort, how do your congregations pay for expenses?

 
 
 
 
 
 
Interesting question. And my answer is going to be quite dated, because although I continued giving to the church I grew up in long after my belief went away, I still sent money their way.

I never considered any donations as tax-deductible or asked for receipts. A tithe is a tithe, and church and state are supposedly separate. I paid in cash or check and just thought "hey, they helped bring me up, so all is cool". Mostly, though, the idea of separation made me not even think of donations to any charity as different from money I simply spent.

And the donations were always optional (even if they sent out letters you could pretend not to have seen them or simply ignore them). They were never a tax, just a chance for an offering.

Methodist, if that adds any context.
Thanks for the reply. The tax angle never occurred to me when I was a kid; I knew that my parents got a statement at the end of the year but I didn't know what they did with it. Since, in the US, churches are tax-privileged (so long as they don't violate any rules, like engaging in partisan politics), it makes sense that people would deduct donations from federal taxes. If you're tithing, that's a significant difference. (There are many things I would like to see change about the tax code, but while the option is there I'm not surprised that people use it. I deduct my synagogue dues alongside my donations to the animal shelter and the local food bank.)
Tax code is very strange. I've never itemized because with no mortgage and most health stuff taken care of by work it only came close to being beneficial one year. I'm not even certain if church donations count as tax-free; it might depend on whether they are a 501-C? No idea. *googles* Okay, they count as tax deductions. Makes sense.
Yeah, deducting charitable donations only works if you're itemizing, which (for most of us) only happens if you have a mortgage. Either that or you've got complicated business/health/childcare stuff going on, I guess, but fortunately I wouldn't know about that.
Or if you live in some place like New York City, where the state + local taxes can add up to quite a bit...