More than 15 years ago when my mom passed away, I started a small endowment to fund the upkeep of her plot. This endowment is invested for the long-term to preserve its purchasing power and provide a stable income stream that will ensure my mom’s grave is well taken care of in my lifetime, in her grandchildren’s lifetime, and even beyond. Knowing this brings me great comfort each and every night before I go to sleep.
Church endowment funds serve an endless number of purposes. But they all have one thing in common, they all carry the same objective – to provide a stable funding source while also preserving future purchasing power. And they should be invested for the long-term in a fashion that matches this goal. To achieve this, ECF’s investment manager, State Street Global Advisors, uses an investment approach with three equally important building blocks, Strategic Asset Allocation, Tactical Asset Allocation, and Active Management.
We all know how hard it can be to say goodbye. I remember a time when our three grandkids and their families were all together. It was a pretty big deal, since we live in different states. When the time came to leave, the youngest one had disappeared. We found him hiding in the back yard—he just couldn’t bear to say goodbye to his cousins.
Jesus had a hard time saying goodbye on the last evening he spent with his dearest friends. He surprised them by washing their feet, and then they shared a leisurely meal. Afterwards, Jesus told them the sad truth: “Little children, I am with you only a little longer.” (John 13:33) As a parting gift, he gave them a New Commandment: to love each other. “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
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?
All sorts of people appreciate Jesus as a healer, or for his remarkable teachings, or as the founder of a movement which swept the world. The story of the baby King born in a stable is widely loved and celebrated. But putting Jesus alongside the Creator and the Spirit can sometimes seem like a stretch. How can we express what we know to be true, that Jesus really is our Savior?
The simple answer comes from a children’s song: “Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.” Many folks won’t be satisfied with that, but I’m most concerned about the people whose lives are a struggle, with darkness and demons dragging them down. I’m searching for something stronger than comforting words, a visible witness to our faith, a message that makes a difference in their lives.
The sentiment included is well known but bears repeating. In my travels over the last few months, I have visited a few churches in different countries and can again reiterate that hospitality and welcoming the strange visitors is the greatest evangelism asset that a congregation can possess. The size of the congregation, the clergy, the choir, the worship experiences all pale in comparison to the simple act of welcoming and providing hospitality to someone as they enter your church. The experiences varied across the churches. Some greeted with smiles and handshakes while others did not acknowledge until introduced by the clergy. Some did not offer a glass of water, while others provided food in abundance from the little they had.
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.
Like most people, I have some bad habits. Some of them are lifestyle related, but many of them are more behavioral in nature – how I react to stress, anger, conflict, hurt, and even disagreement. In these situations, my tendency is to either lash out aggressively or totally withdraw within, even with those I love the most. As I get older, I have been better able to control these impulses, or at least realize when they’re happening, but they are still there under the surface. I have also come to appreciate that these tendencies not only interfere with my interpersonal relationships, but, more importantly, impede my ability to be my true self as God intends me to be. In other words, I often pursue death-like approaches instead of seeking life-giving alternatives.
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.
“I can’t watch this.” That was my friend’s comment when she started watching a news special on the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.
We talked about why it was so difficult to watch, and she recounted having heard about the atrocities committed, but what was so challenging to comprehend was what she called the sheer insanity of it.
One man decided to try to recreate a bygone empire and started firing missiles into another country so he could add it to his “kingdom.” In an instant, hundreds of people lost their lives. Thousands were wounded. Millions of others were displaced from their homes. Families were separated. Global food shortages and political instability followed.
On Shrove Tuesday evening, I carefully laid out my plans for Lent. Additional devotions, readings, and journaling each day, Sunday Mass and Rosary, increased giving to our local food bank. It was going to be a “perfect” Lent, beginning with a 7 AM Eucharist on Ash Wednesday.
My dog awakened me at 4 AM the next morning. He was unsettled because of a thunderstorm, and I couldn’t figure out why. He’d slept through plenty of them before without stirring. I finally gave up on the idea of going back to sleep and wandered into the kitchen to make coffee when I discovered why the pup was trying to pry me from my warm bed: I felt water dripping on my head. The roof was leaking.
My first thought: my plans for a “perfect” Lent are ruined!
Fundraising is on the long list of things that I never learned anything about in seminary. Or, so I would have told you several years ago. My congregation’s recent fundraising experiences have taught me that I learned a lot about fundraising in seminary, because the principles of effective pastoral fundraising are the same as the principles of effective pastoral care that I learned in seminary and that I continue to hone today.
Principle 1: Focus on the needs of the other person.
Effective pastors know how to keep the conversation focused on the other person, they know how to listen more than they speak, they know how to tolerate silence, and they know how to refrain from judgment. Effective pastoral fundraisers should display the same characteristics. Effective pastoral fundraising is not focused on the church, but on the giver. The goal is to make the giver feel good about her gift, and to create an opportunity for her to impact the future of her church.
Depending on when you’re reading this, Lent has either begun or is a few days away. Perhaps it’s the readings, but at this time of year, I always reflect on my life and on the state of the world. I’m writing this blog on Sexagesima Sunday – a term that is a throwback to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer – denoting the second Sunday before Lent.
I rather like the old terms for these three Sundays (Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima) because they give me time to transition from my Christmas and Epiphany mindset and prepare for Lent.
In some ways, they feel like the onramp to Lent, and, just like driving on a freeway, it’s best to come up to speed before you merge. I feel like I have a richer experience of Lent by observing these pre-Lenten Sundays.
After his baptism and his vision quest in the desert, Jesus encountered crowds wherever he went. Dozens or hundreds of people turned up in every little town, desperate for healing for themselves or their loved ones. He saw families struggling to survive, kids who went to bed hungry, adults worn out trying to care for others. There were broken-hearted people, grieving painful losses, and many struggling to find or keep their faith, wondering where God was in the midst of their troubles.
Jesus was filled with compassion for all those people; his heart must have been breaking for them. How did he manage to stay open and present in the midst of all their suffering? We know that whenever he could, Jesus slipped away to spend time in prayer. He looked for quiet places where he could sit with the Creator and replenish his spirit.
This year, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday on February 22 and ends on Easter Sunday, April 9th. Lent brings us to a time of self-examination and reflection about our relationship with God, and provides an opportunity for fasting from the behaviors, ideas and objects in life that pull us away from God. Below please find a collection of resources for Lent and Easter with ideas to help make good use of this time of reflection.
1. The Episcopal Church invites us to walk with Jesus in his Way of Love and into the experience of transformed life through Life Transformed: The Way of Love in Lent, which includes videos, adult forum curriculum, calendar, publicity materials, and quiet day curriculum available in English, Spanish, and French.
I believe God speaks to us in confluences. When people from diverse places and backgrounds come to similar conclusions on how a problem might be solved, I listen. When the burdens of a diversity of problems might be lightened by a single program or project, I pay attention to the possibilities.
Three years since COVID rocked our ecclesial equilibrium across the United States, a new confluence is emerging. Many cities and towns are experiencing an affordable housing crisis and a growing homeless population. A tiny homes movement is causing local governments to rework housing codes and permitting processes. At the same time, fewer people are involved in church, and fewer still are attending in person on Sunday mornings. Many parking lots that once were packed with cars now have easy access. Congregations are re-thinking mission in the community, considering anew how God might be calling them to share the resources they have, and realizing resources they had not considered before. Notably land.
Monday Night Football doesn’t often trigger an agenda item for vestries. But the match-up on January 2 between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills should. Most of you probably know the details by now: a few minutes into the much-anticipated game, Bills’ safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field, apparently suffering from a cardiac arrest. Although doctors are still determining what caused the often-fatal event, what is clear is that his life was saved by fast-acting medical personnel who delivered CPR and administered electric shocks from a defibrillator.
And here’s the agenda item for vestries across the church: schedule training for CPR AND buy a defibrillator. You may be thinking that this was a unique situation, and there’s no need to invest the money or time for such life-saving measures in the local congregation. You’re wrong.
I’m not a big fan of January. Ever since I was a child, January has been my least favorite month of the year. I’m not quite sure why. I guess it has something to do with the weather and the general let-down that comes after the Christmas holidays. My father always insisted on taking down the Christmas tree on New Year’s Day which I found rather depressing. As an adult married couple, my wife and I much prefer to wait until January 6th or beyond to perform this least favorite task of the year. I am even intrigued by those cultures and traditions that keep the tree up until February 2, Candlemas Day but imagine the pine needles that would have to be cleaned up. Maybe my problem with January is also the frustration about New Year’s resolutions that go unfulfilled, although I have been sticking to my diet so far. It’s not that interesting and even enjoyable things don’t occur in January. Also, in January, the days start to become longer by one or two minutes each day which will be rather noticeable by the end of the month. Nonetheless, I know that when February 1st comes around, I will breathe a huge sigh of relief.
We have all encountered peculiar churches. In fact, we have been seeing a lot of them lately and we need to see more.
The two churches that were featured in the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, Westminster Abbey in London and St. George’s Chapel at Windsor, are literally peculiar - royal peculiars. They have been carved out of the jurisdiction of their local diocesan bishops and placed under the direct authority of the sovereign, who oversees them in her or his capacity as the supreme governor of the Church of England.
How delightfully British. Or is it?
You may be surprised to learn that we have at least one peculiar here in the United States, albeit not a royal one. On the first floor of the Episcopal Church Center in New York City, our Presiding Bishop’s headquarters, you will find the Chapel of Christ the Lord. In its sacristy hangs two certificates from 1963 that serve to carve that little chapel out of the Diocese of New York and transfer it to the direct authority of the Presiding Bishop.