A new energy is springing up in churches looking to inspire new gifts to endowment. We’ve recently talked to several churches who are making plans for an endowment campaign, whether to grow an existing endowment or start a new one. While there are several steps to success, in this blog post we’ll focus on one: engaging parishioners by telling the impact story of your church so far and linking that to a future vision.
Why is this important? We know that many donors today give not out of habit or convention, out of duty or obligation, but because they see that gifts are used in a way that makes a difference. Coupled with this, while all fundraising is fundamentally a future-oriented activity, endowment fundraising asks your members to think about the long-term future. Why sustain the mission and ministry of your church into the future? How do you envision growing the impact your church has already made into the future?
Church leaders who oversee church money have a fiduciary responsibility. The money is not their own – it belongs to the church – so there are certain standards to follow. That is, you can be as carefree as you want with your own money, but not with someone else’s money!
Most church leaders know about their fiduciary responsibility – it is the same principle that applies when acting as a trustee or executor, or when serving on a corporate board or finance committee. But what’s different at a church – or any nonprofit organization – is an added duty to consider the church’s mission.
Let’s review fiduciary responsibilities generally and explain how to carry them out at a church.
Success doesn’t just happen; we must plan for it. Many churches have an endowment fund, but not all have the markers of success. At ECF, we encourage churches to act intentionally and proactively to build a successful and sustainable endowment that engages the vestry, the endowment committee, and the whole church community. It’s important to continually assess your endowment strategy especially if an endowment lacks organization, if it is not growing with new gifts, or if many church members are unaware of the endowment’s existence or purpose.
How to Structure your Endowment for Success
Step 1: Identify the church’s vision for the endowment
The first attribute of a successful endowment is a clear vision of what it can help the church accomplish. Endowments are an excellent way for churches to ensure that the gifts they receive will continue to benefit the church for years to come, but that will only become a reality if there is a direct line from the mission of the church to the vision of the endowment. Are you clear about how your endowment fund can help your church fulfill its mission? (And are you clear about its specific purpose?) All church leaders – including both vestry and endowment committee members – as well as the congregation must “own” the endowment vision. Root it in your shared mission. Make it simple and compelling. And proclaim it clearly.
The importance of legacy is firmly rooted in the minds and hearts of the parishioners of All Saints Episcopal Church in Tarpon Springs, FL. I interviewed The Reverend Janet Tunnell, the rector, James Rissler, chair of the Funding our Future committee, and Ellen Lightner, chair of the Perpetual Light Legacy Society, to learn how creating a legacy society helped and is continuing to help All Saints grow the church’s endowment for the future.
Founded in 1892, All Saints Episcopal Church is in sunny Tarpon Springs, Florida, a historical fishing village on the Gulf Coast. Generations of families have attended the church, yet it’s also a welcoming place for newcomers. “We are just a very close tight-knit family. When you come the first time you're embraced and welcomed, and you feel like you've been there forever.” Ellen Lightner said.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29: 18
Would you give money to a cause not knowing how it would be spent? Most people give to causes that affirm their cherished values, but donors are more likely to give when they know an organization will use their gift wisely … and believe the gift will make a difference. Churches face increasing competition for the time, attention, and money of their parishioners. Donors who care will give when they are moved by your mission, understand your plans, and trust you.
Endowment giving requires a special kind of trust. A donor must know a church will be trustworthy well into the future, beyond the time when the donor is part of the congregation. To inspire endowment gifts, to motivate new gifts and earn recurring gifts, church leaders can carefully build, nurture, and sustain that trust.
Do you believe in the mission and work of your church? Would you like to help your church ensure that it can serve people for years to come? If you answered yes, then you believe in the benefits of an endowment. An endowment provides financial support that can impact your community far into the future. It can build the vitality of your church and create stronger bonds with your surrounding community through the ministries your church creates and supports.
If your church wants to discuss if this is the right time to start an endowment, contact ECF’s Endowment Management program at [email protected]
I’m not sure about you, but I struggle with this stretch of the winter. This part of the year recalls images of Narnia prior to the fulfillment of the Golden Age Prophecy which saw the return of spring to a world suffering in a state of constant winter, never Christmas.
I’ve been thinking about winter a great deal, actually. I’ve been reading the book ‘Wintering’ by British writer Katherine May. In it, May describes “wintering” as “a fallow period in life when you’re cut off from the world, feeling rejected, sidelined, blocked from progress or cast into the role of an outsider.” ‘Wintering’ goes on to provide readers with guidance for transforming the hardships that arise before the shepherding in of a new season.