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Fearless Fundraising #11: A moment on endowed pledges & the future

Fearless Fundraising #11: A moment on endowed pledges & the future

“Fearless Fundraising” is a series on church fundraising by Charles LaFond, an Episcopal Priest, author and master potter living on a farm in New Mexico. Charles is the author of many books including Fearless Church Fundraising and now, Fearless Major Gifts: Inspiring Meaning-making. For more information, videos and model documents go to


Bread plays into our regularly in our scriptures.  Bread was then, and often is now, a staple of our diet and a staple of our liturgy.  We plan for bread and then work with the rest – wine, fish, savings, a home.  Every day I raise money for homelessness.  Most days I meet and shake hands with a man or woman in our lobby who is experiencing homelessness.  They are people. They have names. They have mothers.


They need bread.


Sometimes coffee too. And we need the funds to buy those resources – bread, coffee, a hotel room, a social worker and then an apartment to get people off the streets and into homes as winter looms.


There is an urgency to my fundraising for the homeless because I speak daily to people experiencing homelessness.  My gut burns to raise these funds because I know the names of those who will suffer if I fail just as my gut burns with the joy of the housing-first model as a solution.


Similarly I have raised a lot of money for the church.  I have raised pledges in churches of 30 families and of 3,000 families and although each one is absolutely sure they are “different,” it is often my task to gently, kindly, say that indeed, they are not so different.  We are all going to have to raise money for our budgets and we will need to raise that money from people who sit in our pews – people who have become mindful of their gratitude and their blessings such that their pledges reflect that mindfulness.


Fundraising is what the church does and stewardship is what the people of the church do.  Just as bread has ingredients, there are ingredients of a successful financial development program in any church. And as bread needs yeast, development efforts need a plan.


As your pledge campaigns come to a close in these final weeks of Fall (for those who conduct their pledge campaigns in the Fall) are you asking yourselves about sustainability…about a plan?


I know…it is scary.  Halloween scary.  But may I suggest a gut-check at this time of year to ask yourself “As my congregation ages, what is my plan to replace the pledges of those who die and are not replaced with similar pledgers?  Sure, there will be GenXers to replace some of the Silent Generation currently meeting their Maker, but we know that their gifts will be smaller by as much as 80% and that fewer of them will be sitting in our pews.  This is not pessimism.  This is planning.


This is why I believe that the conversation about planned giving must occur year-round in our churches but is best launched in late Fall – Right Now!  Pledges are in and budgets are being designed so now is the opportunity.  In this brief intermission of fundraising in our churches, now is the time to say – out loud – that every pledger is invited to consider endowing their pledge in their will.


The easy thing about this “bequest/endowed-pledge message” is that you are not actually asking anyone to give any money.  Not exactly. Well, not this moment. Not as we gear up for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  But what you are doing is raising awareness among your clergy, your vestry, your Bishop’s Committee, your Diocese that if a pledge has not been endowed by an inclusion in a donor’s will equivalent to 20 times the amount of the annual pledge, then when that person dies (and they will) the pledge will be lost.


Let’s say that Mrs. Symington is in her late sixties.  Her children went to church when they were young and then again when they had their first child, but they are now in their 40s and they hike on Sundays.  Mrs. Symington’s grandchildren are in their 20s and they spend Sundays with friends at the park. Mr. Symington died last year.  Mrs. Symington has been giving $1,000 every year in her pledge.  Her children give at Christmas when the family is together but they do not pledge.  What is the plan to replace that $1,000 when Mrs. Symington dies?  Are we allowed to talk about that?  And what if the congregation pledges are largely made up of Mrs. Symingtons?


The solution is to sit in Mrs. Symington’s living room and discuss some math (for more on that read my next book Fearless Major Gifts: Inspiring Meaning Making)  That $1,000 from Mrs. Symington’s pledge is needed.  The budget of the church and the church’s mission depends on that $1,000 – 40 others like it!


If Mrs. Symington were to adjust her Last Will and Testament to include St. Luke Episcopal Church’s Irrevocable Endowment Fund as a beneficiary of $20,000 at the time of her death, then her $1,000 pledge would be funded forever – endowed. (That is assuming that the church has gift-policies which immediately lock each planned gift into the endowment as un-touchable by future vestries and future clergy…if the endowment of your church or your Diocese can have its corpus tapped then…well…there is no point….an endowment fund is not a slush fund!)


Doing math is not un-spiritual – Jesus asked about bread and fish.  It is eye-opening for a vestry to request these numbers from their clergy:

  1. Number of funerals in our parish in the last ten years:
  1. Number of pledges and gifts lost due to the death of the donor in the last ten years:
  1. Total $ amount lost to the budget in ten years due to deaths of donors/pledgers:
  1. Number of bequests from those who have died in our parish last year:
  1. Amount of money locked into the parish’s irrevocable endowment from bequests in the past 10 years:
  1. Amount of money generated by the bequests on an annual basis:


Then subtract #3 from #6 and you will begin to see the trend for your church’s finances.


Oh and by the way, consider that the next ten years will increase your trend exponentially faster than the last ten years.


Here is an example from a church I know:

This church has 60 families active in the congregation (active = attending and pledging) with an annual budget of $120,000 from pledges averaging $2,000 each.

  1. Number of funerals in our parish in the last ten years: 111
  1. Number of pledges and gifts lost due to the death of the donor in the last ten years: 65
  1. Total $ amount lost to the budget in ten years due to deaths of donors/pledgers: $125,000
  1. Number of bequests from those who have died in our parish in the last ten years: 18
  1. Amount of money locked into the parish endowment from 18 bequests in the past 10 years: $800,000
  1. Amount of money generated by the bequests on an annual basis: $40,000


# 3 ($125,000) minus # 6 ($40,000) = $85,000


The problem is that at this rate, the parish will not last the next decade.  And given that this rate of decline will increase exponentially, the parish might need to close in the next 6 years because at some point, the parish will have a skeletal budget but no longer be able to pay for anything other than the building expenses.


So, this author suggests, every church needs to make make the endowment of each pledge a top priority in the next five years.


It is true.  God might provide some miracle that sustains our churches and the Dioceses they fund.  But having a Plan B does not hurt. Well, a Plan B and some pie.


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Mary Anne Chesarek

I find this post disturbing. Instead of finding out why the “Symingtons” don’t come to church anymore, or devising programs that will attract the younger generations, let’s just threaten the old people with the dissolution of their beloved parish church if they don’t cough up in the will. The message I get is, let’s find a way to fund the upkeep of the parish and the priest’s salary, even if we’re so irrelevant that no one comes to church. We have to find new ways to reach the young (not just the minor children.) I know this is the big question of our time and no one yet knows the answer, but this article just plans for a lovely mausoleum for a dead institution.

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