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.
Believe it or not, it’s that time of year again. It’s time to start planning to encourage your donors to make gift before the end of the year! We hope that you have been encouraging giving throughout the year. Even so, many donors discover, due to summer vacations and various other reasons that they have fallen behind on their pledges. The last few months of the year are a great time to send giving statements to your donors as gentle reminders of their previous commitments and to remind them about additional ways to give.
Most people prefer not talking about death. Consequently, most people die without a written will. So what happens then?
If you don’t have a will the state has already written one for you. And guess how the state will distribute your assets after you die? Lawyers are first in line, of course. Then taxes, creditors, and finally loved ones. Nothing goes to charity.
Also, your survivors get to pay the maximum in estate and inheritance taxes.
With a will you control applicable taxes, you determine what charities you want to be part of your legacy. You release your family from unnecessary turmoil and delay in settling your estate.
I have been privileged to hear many personal stories about the deep commitment people feel toward their parish. I remember a young woman recounting when she became a single parent and how her parish rallied around her providing on-going emotional support, as well as sometimes buying diapers and assisting with baby-sitting her daughter. To this woman, her parish literally became her support network and extended family.
In every workshop I do on legacy giving from one’s estate, there is one I phrase I say consistently: “When someone makes a planned gift of any kind to their parish, that person raises their congregation to the level of family in their estate plans”. Such a gift demonstrates that someone believes so strongly in the mission and ministry of his/her parish, that they would elevate them to the same status as one of their children or grandchildren for the eventual distribution of their worldly goods. Such a gift is not a simple token but demonstrates tremendous passion and conviction for the future ministry of the parish.
When someone makes this choice -- whether a bequest, remaining IRA balance, insurance policy or residuum of a Charitable Remainder Trust or Gift Annuity – that person offers a testimony: “I want to support my parish’s future ministry and to continue to participate in the mission which became so vital during my lifetime.”
Gifts and memorials from departed church members are not a popular topic that gets discussed in our congregations. As a society and as individuals we have an aversion to discussing and planning for our own death and those of our loved ones. However, given the demographics of our congregations, much of our clergy’s time is spent doing frequent funerals. Also as individuals we are often unprepared and are making major decisions during our bereavement or illness which is not optimal. Not only do we miss the presence and talents of our departed members but also their financial contributions which helps to maintain the ministry of our churches.
We do need to reintroduce the topic of Gifts and Memorials for the church leadership and congregation, a few ideas to consider include:
Building a Legacy for Future Ministry
In the August Vital Practices Digest, we offer five resources related to planned giving. As always, our fifth resource suggests a way to strengthen your practice of year-round stewardship.
It’s easy and free to connect with these resources for your congregation. Subscribe to ECF Vital Practices and receive Vestry Papers and this Vital Practices Digest in your inbox each month.