When we meet with church leaders about encouraging their members to remember the church in their estate plans, we sometimes hear from people who think planned giving efforts are for larger, wealthier congregations that are "better off". This isn't true! To emphasize this point, we share the following story from Michael Reeves, author of "Creative Giving":
A congregation in a small farming community received word that a former resident and church member had included the church in her will. Her declining health had required her to relocate from the community several decades earlier in order to be closer to her family.
Until the move, she had lived most of her life in the community and had been a faithful member of the church. Because of her long absence, though, many of the younger members of the church did not know her. No one expected that her estate or the bequest to the church would be large. To their amazement, the bequest was almost a quarter of a million dollars!
Because the church didn't have a framework in place for receiving, managing, and benefiting from these new funds, the money soon became a stumbling block for the congregation. There were many ideas about how the funds should be used. Due to the differences of opinion, relationships began to suffer.
Eventually, the church decided to use a portion of the funds for renovating several parts of the church building. The major portion of the funds was invested with the church's judicatory foundation. But still the disagreements persisted in this small church family.
Some saw no need to protect the asset for the long term because the congregation would probably go out of existence in another decade anyway. Others saw the gift as a substitute for the personal and familial giving by members of the congregation. Some wanted distributions from the invested funds to provide for ministries that the congregation couldn't otherwise afford. Others believed that the distributions should be large enough to cover all of the denominational apportionments and requests, and current members could cover the cost of local operations and salaries. Still others wanted the fund to provide for the upkeep of the sturdy but aging buildings.
It took several years, many long and heated discussions, and three treasurers- each of whom resigned from weariness over the church members' wrangling- for resolutions to emerge and some degree of harmony to be restored. These resolutions now provide for regular distributions that both support the congregation's ministries and protect the remaining corpus of the fund for the longevity of the church.
One of the lessons this congregation learned was that while money doesn't always bring out the best in people, a large bequest may bring out some of the inactive members to express their opinions and vote at meetings. The moral of the story is that no congregation is too small to have basic policies in place that allow for receiving, managing, and using bequests, even if the congregation chooses not to have a full-fledged planned giving emphasis.
This story is a great example of why establishing gift policies and procedures is the first step we recommend to churches as they begin to talk about planned giving. To learn more about our church-based GiftLegacy planned giving emphasis, please click here. We provide this service at no-cost to our Moravian churches and agencies as we believe it's vital for them to be talking to Moravians about planned gifts.