Planned giving program takes stewardship to the next level

May 15, 2018 by Eva Stimson

A new wills emphasis program is taking stewardship to the next level at First Presbyterian Church in Bentonville, Arkansas. Many members are realizing for the first time that they can leave a bequest to the church that will support the church’s mission for years to come.

“People are considering how they can give to the church not only while they’re alive but after they’re gone,” says Bob Boehmler, chair of a committee that is coordinating the Bentonville church’s emphasis on legacy giving. “We’ve already had members come to us and say, ‘I just didn’t realize that this was an option.’”

First Presbyterian Church, Bentonville, Arkansas

Jean and Roy Horan were in the process of updating their will, when Boehmler asked Jean to serve on the legacy giving committee, which is a sub-group of the committee that oversees the church’s endowment fund.

Jean Horan says she had already been thinking about leaving a bequest to the church. “When Bob called, it just kind of sealed the deal.”

She says the process of updating her will “made me think about how important the church is to me. This is where we took our daughter to youth group, where we had family night dinners, where we worshiped.”

It was exciting to think about leaving a legacy of faith — “something that would keep on giving,” Jean Horan says.

Bequests leave a legacy

“A bequest allows someone to continue to participate in the mission of the church even when they are no longer able to be there,” says Sherry Kenney, a Ministry Relations Officer with the Presbyterian Foundation, who has advised Bentonville’s First Presbyterian Church on their legacy giving program.

In her work with congregations on stewardship, Kenney stresses the importance of writing a will and keeping it up-to-date. Writing a will is “an act of love and responsibility,” she says. A will enables you to designate guardians for any surviving dependents and to determine how your assets will be distributed. Without a will, the probate court will make those decisions.

Kenney also encourages pastors and other church leaders to talk with members about leaving a bequest to support the church or a favorite mission for years to come. Bequests aren’t limited to money; they can include assets such as stocks or real estate.

The invitation to leave a bequest should be extended more than once, Kenney says. “Not everyone will act on it, but they certainly can’t accept an invitation that has never been extended.”

Luncheon launches program

In Bentonville, Boehmler and his committee extended the invitation at a congregational luncheon after worship one Sunday in April. They announced the event in the church bulletin and newsletter and sent invitations to church members 55 and older encouraging them to attend.

They came up with a theme — “Legacy of a Lifetime” — and a logo — a tree to symbolize growth — and had these printed on placemats and on a cake served at the luncheon.

Kenney and her husband, Andy, attended the luncheon, and she shared their story about leaving a bequest to their congregation, Central Presbyterian Church in Denver.

Boehmler says the committee plans to remind the congregation at least monthly about the importance of planned giving. Committee members also are working on a system for recognizing people who contribute to the church’s endowment.

Boehmler and Horan see the wills emphasis program as a way of growing the endowment, thus increasing their church’s capacity for mission. Because endowment funds are invested and multiply “over a long period of time,” explains Boehmler, a bequest to the endowment can have “more of an impact than a gift that is used immediately.”

A gift to the endowment “doesn’t have to be a large sum of money,” Horan tells church members. “The money they give is going to grow — and the higher we build that balance, the more money we can give to mission every year.”

Endowment can fulfill many needs 

One year, at Horan’s request, the endowment committee gave a grant to support campus ministry at the University of Arkansas. Other beneficiaries of the endowment have included a prison ministry, an enrichment program for low-income children, and a nonprofit working with young women who have aged out of the foster-care system.

Horan suggests people leave a percentage of their estate to the church — something that is doable even for those who currently feel stretched financially. “We’re not asking for their full estate,” she says, “and we’re not asking them to write a check today.”

“We’re asking them to think about leaving something that will build and grow for years to come.”

Your Ministry Relations Officer can help guide you through the process of establishing a legacy giving program, and we would be glad to connect you. You can easily find the Foundation’s Ministry Relations Officer in your region through our website here, or call 800-858-6127 Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. The Presbyterian Foundation’s “Live Forward, Give Forward” program offers resources to help churches encourage giving through charitable bequests, permanent endowment funds, and other estate plans.