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Stewardship Kaleidoscope seminar discusses planned giving basics for churches

Church members ready to leave a legacy to their churches — but are churches asking?

by Robyn Davis Sekula | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Karl Mattison. (Photo by Erin Dunigan)

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. – In 2016, Americans left $3.76 billion to non-profits in their estates. Churches can be beneficiaries of this generosity but it takes a good plan and a strong message to spur those gifts, says Karl Mattison, Vice President of Planned Giving Resources for the Presbyterian Foundation.

What’s more, when people create a bequest in their will, they increase their annual giving by 75 percent, Mattison reports. That’s primarily because of the nature of estate planning, Mattison says. “Planned giving is emotional and makes you think who am I, and who will I be after my lifetime?” Mattison says. “You have doubled down on what means the most to you and it is articulated in your estate plan. Those gifts shoot up because you’ve thought about what means the most to you.”

Mattison led a workshop at Stewardship Kaleidoscope on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at TradeWinds Resort in St. Pete Beach, Florida. Stewardship Kaleidoscope is an annual Presbyterian conference that discusses stewardship, endowments and planned giving, each applied with a spiritual lens.

Church members are ready

Only five percent of Americans have charitable estate plans, Mattison says. While this number is low, what brings Mattison hope is this statistic: 23 percent of people say they’re willing to make a gift in their estate but have not done so. “In churches, that number will be larger,” Mattison says.

Churches now have more competition for donations from members, Mattison says, but churches have something that non-profits never will: significant face time each and every week. “We can’t change the competition,” Mattison says. “But our churches have a competitive advantage, and it is significant.”

Church members spend their life’s most important moments at their churches, Mattison says. “That’s a person who cares what happens to this place after our lifetime,” Mattison says. “We are full of people who feel this way.”

Starting out

How does a church start a legacy giving program? Churches should create a Legacy Giving committee, and that committee should establish what happens when a legacy gift is received. A crucial note: women aren’t always represented on these committees, and they should be, Mattison says. More charitable estate gifts are made by women than men. And on average women’s bequests are significantly greater than those left by men, Mattison says.

One important question to answer is where those gifts go: into an endowment, the church budget or reserves? Your policies should delve into this. “Don’t start from scratch because it will take you a few years to create these policies,” Mattison says. “Get some templates. We at the Presbyterian Foundation have resources. Policies are critical.”

Next: talk about planned giving in your congregation. Mattison got specific about how often to discuss it and where to do so. In one year, broadcast the following:

  • 12 blurbs in the church bulletin
  • 4 articles in the newsletter
  • 2 announcements from the pulpit
  • 1 legacy Sunday to recognize and honor those who have created a planned gift

Mattison emphasizes two more things: put information on the church web site about planned giving, as well as other ways to give, and have brochures on hand that discuss planned giving.

He says stories shared in these places should be inspirational and personal. Ask someone who loves the church and has honored it with an estate gift to speak during church about why they’ve given and what the church means in their lives. Tell stories of those who have passed and what their gifts meant to the congregation, and who they were.

One more key point Mattison draws from a church experience: when someone calls the church and wants to discuss planned giving or something like a charitable remainder trust, be sure that those answering the phone know to respond enthusiastically and gratefully, and know who exactly should get that message. Be sure the call is returned within 24 hours.


For Presbyterian Foundation resources on planned giving, visit the portal on the Foundation web site. There, you’ll find sample brochures, web pages and much more, all available for use by congregations.

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