November 4, 2022

A Legacy of Giving – All Saints Episcopal Church, Tarpon Springs, FL

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.

All Saints’ Endowment

Like many churches, All Saints had many conversations about how to secure the future of the church. The church started an endowment in 2003, and the fund now equals more than $500,000. The vestry has overall responsibility for the endowment but set up a committee, Funding our Future, to manage and grow the endowment. The Funding our Future committee is made up primarily of past church leaders whose familiarity with both the endowment and the church could help with long-range planning.

The All Saints endowment includes two funds – one designated for general operating expenses and the other for youth programs and scholarships. Any surplus from the general operating fund is earmarked for special maintenance of All Saints’ nearly 130-year-old facility.

Timing is Everything

For many years, the vestry wanted to create a legacy society to encourage new gifts, donations, and bequests and to honor the donors, but their efforts were met with starts and stops. The turning point came with the decision to turn over the management of All Saints' endowment to the Diocese of Southwest Florida’s Diocesan Endowment Management Program, which invests with the Episcopal Church Foundation. James Rissler, chair of the Funding our Future committee said, “When we turned our funds over to the diocese for management that freed up a lot of our time that we had previously used to manage the fund. We started looking for new things and new opportunities to help. We started talking about all the different things we could be doing and starting a legacy society became a subject.” The request to form a legacy Society came from the Funding our Future committee and the vestry okayed it.

The initial conversation to start a legacy society started in August 2020 and soon after the Funding our Future committee asked Ellen Lightner to chair the committee to start the Perpetual Light Legacy Society. The legacy society committee with the help of the Funding our Future committee planned the launch of the legacy society by learning about legacy societies, creating a vision for what they wanted, building support, and understanding the opportunities that having a legacy society would provide them. They had events throughout that year to raise awareness and interest in becoming a founding member of the society. James Rissler, “It's taken an effort of all of us to make it work.”

Building the Legacy Society

All Saints’ initial one-year goal was to grow the endowment by creating a legacy society with founding members. The minimum qualifying donation for the legacy society is $1,000, and membership in the legacy society also goes to individuals who name All Saints in their will. They grandfathered in those parishioners who had already donated $1,000 or more to the endowment, and later, they changed the plaques to reference those endowment donors as founding members of the legacy society. Reverend Janet developed the brochure, and she provided support to help get the legacy society off the ground. It’s through the work of these three and the other 5-7 members of the legacy society committee that helped create and build All Saints’ legacy society.

“To get us going in August on the nuts and bolts of getting the legacy society started, the Vestry was involved in establishing a policy for the legacy society. We worked on a policy for receiving gifts and for a legacy society. We had this baseline to start with which was really important,” Rev. Janet said.

In September, the legacy society committee announced the creation of the Perpetual Light Legacy Society by sending letters and a brochure to the congregation and everyone on All Saints’ mailing list to invite them to become founding members of the legacy society. They followed up with another letter and the committee presented the legacy society at All Saints’ annual meeting in January 2021.

At All Saints’ annual meeting a few people on the committee and other volunteers gave testimonies about what their long-term commitment meant to them and to their families. Ellen Lightner shared, “I talked about my grandparents who were members of the church back in the 1950s, and how my parents and those people of that generation thought ahead for the legacy of the church today. All those things that they put their money into we now enjoy and giving to the legacy society will preserve that legacy for our children, and our grandchildren, and the people that will be at All Saints when we're gone.”

After the annual meeting, the legacy society committee followed up with postcards to remind the congregation about the deadline to become founding members.

In February, during the Lenten period, All Saints did a four-night workshop series, borrowed from a neighboring Episcopal church, called “Navigating Our Future.” The first workshop focused on living arrangements as you age and learning about the resident services of a nearby retirement and nursing home. The second workshop was about planning for aging as it relates to legal matters. They invited a lawyer to come in and speak about creating a will. The third workshop was on healthcare and life maintenance as you age. They had a financial advisor come in regarding end-of-life planning or finances. And the fourth workshop focused on funeral planning. A local funeral director and Rev. Janet spoke on the different aspects of funeral planning.

James Rissler, “One of the key things behind the whole effort with the legacy society was to encourage people first to make out a will and then, secondly, to ask them if it is possible to put the church in their will. Reverend Janet is available to help people with their planning which includes funeral planning as well as including the church family in their will.”

A few weeks after the deadline of August 2021, the legacy society committee hosted a celebratory lunch for founding members of the legacy society. At the lunch, some of the members gave testimonies about the benefit of giving not just for the church’s current needs but the importance of giving for the future of the church. The legacy society committee sent thank you notes after the luncheon.

Founding members were honored with a plaque and pin designating their founding member status, which encourages conversation with the rest of the congregation. With the founding member campaign, they added 26 new people to the legacy society in that first year. Including existing endowment donors, the total of the new legacy society is over 50 members. While the committee did not set a goal for new members, they were pleased with the results and interest generated by the founding member campaign.

The ECF Difference

The legacy society committee credits the Episcopal Church Foundation’s publication, Funding Future Ministry, and working with ECF’s Endowment Management program, as important pieces in the success of the legacy society. Funding Future Ministry is a comprehensive manual that gives information on how to create a thriving planned giving program including how to set up a legacy society.

Ellen Lightner, “In the beginning, we literally took the printed outline on starting a Legacy Society and went step by step with the outline. It was very helpful, and it was very good to know why you needed a year to plan.”

Rev. Janet, “The experts of ECF have been incredibly helpful. It was beneficial to have the information in Funding Future Ministry, to see the options laid out and learn how to speak about planned giving in a heartfelt way instead of speaking just about the nuts and bolts.”

Endowment Management Associate Program Director, Josh Anderson, has worked closely with both All Saints Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Southwest Florida’s Diocesan Endowment Management Program on various endowment management issues including growing endowments through planned giving. Jim Rissler, “ECF has been helpful in establishing our legacy society through phone calls and referrals. Our diocese has had programs that our members have attended, and they have given out information provided by ECF. We also attend Diocese of Southwest Florida’s annual meetings in February where Josh has given presentations."

As a result of seeing Josh’s presentation on marketing a planned giving program, All Saints’ Funding our Future committee redefined its purpose. They incorporated all their operational and funding needs into a well-defined purpose.

Rev. Janet, “I think one of the things that I appreciate about ECF is the scriptural connection to what we're doing here. It is important to remind people of why we are called to be good stewards in this way.”

The Future

What are All Saints’ goals for the future of their legacy society? They are planning to have annual events for members of the Perpetual Light Legacy Society and give quarterly updates on the growth and use of endowment funds. Ellen Lightner, “Originally, when we started the legacy society, it was sort of the mindset of 'let's get people to sign us up in their will.' But now it’s expanded into 'let’s get people to understand that the perpetuity of the church is based on their commitment to keeping the church going after they're gone.'”

Both the Perpetual Light Legacy Society committee and the Funding our Future committee continue to re-iterate to the congregation that they don’t have to give large amounts to give to the endowment fund to help. And projects like the birthday challenge encourage giving to the endowment fund.

For example, Rev. Janet explains, “when they turn 82, they put $82 into the endowment. That can build up over time. And once they hit a thousand dollars, they are now a legacy member.”

Ellen Lightner, “We want people to understand that the ability to support ministries and community outreach and community connection extends past our ability to pay the bills and pay for the rector. We have to be able to support our ministries as well.”

“You have to look down the road 40, 50 years from now. If nothing else, sure, you don't want to see the old church go, but it’s more than just the building. The church is the people,” Ellen said.

Takeaways from All Saints’ Perpetual Light Legacy Society committee for other churches

Take your time
Rev. Janet, “Having a timeline was really important in setting the pace. Knowing that we could take our time and plan for the whole year was instrumental in realizing that we're not just going to announce it and then, in two months, gain numbers. That founding year was most important.”

Lean into the power of your testimony
Committee members from the Legacy Society gave their testimonies and perspectives about why giving to the endowment was important.

Seek out help
The Episcopal Church Foundation has resources that were pivotal pieces in the success of All Saints’ legacy society. ECF’s Endowment Management program has the expertise to help churches structure, invest, and grow their endowments and resources such as Funding Future Ministry, can help Episcopal organizations create robust endowment giving programs.

Start where you are.
Ellen Lightner, “For any church thinking of starting an endowment it doesn't matter what size they are, they should just start putting money in the endowment. That's what we did and eventually, our endowment got large enough that we needed a better plan. Just start, don’t worry how much they’re able to put in there. Just do it, just start!"