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Legacy Giving

Legacy Giving touches and transforms lives! When you remember your church in your estate plan you water the ministries of the future, strengthen your congregation, and help people to find and be found by Christ.

It feels great to be a Legacy Giver, because you know you are keeping your church vital and strong in difficult times. 

But Legacy Giving doesn’t just happen. Legacy Gifts need to be invited and encouraged. That’s why a “Legacy Giving Ministry” is so important. 



The mission and purpose of a Legacy Giving Ministry is to promote, encourage and thank those who have made a planned gift to support the ministry of the parish, including the development of a Legacy Society. 

Your church’s Legacy Society includes anyone who has remembered the church in their estate plans, or has otherwise made the church the beneficiary of a planned gift of some kind. (For example, a bequest in a will, trust beneficiary, pay on death account, life insurance policy, charitable remainder trust, etc.)

Starting a Legacy Giving Ministry is not difficult. The number one tip is this: “Don’t get lost in the weeds!” You need not begin with complex gift giving policies or wordy vestry motions. Just follow the steps below, organized into PHASE I, PHASE II, and PHASE III.

Finally, keep in mind that we have a Legacy Giving Task Force that is here to help and support you! We can answer questions by phone. We can meet with you, your vestry, your Legacy Giving committee or anyone else to answer questions or offer guidance. Reach out to us through our diocesan liaison, Mark Miliotto, by email or phone 313-833-4427.

Phase I:  Lay a foundation. “Walk”

1. Appoint a Planned Giving Ministry “Steering Team” – Draw from key leaders, vestry, stewardship, former wardens, patriarch, matriarchs of the church.  

        • If possible, have representation from any planned giving professionals or estate planning attorneys in the parish, 
        • Be sure to include members with hospitality, party planning/event planning gifts
        • Charge the Steering Team with the remaining steps in Phase I

2. Choose a Name – Choose something that has meaning to the church if possible.  For example, if your church already has a ‘Founders Day’ as part of its annual events, consider a name such as Founder’s Circle, etc. or just go with “[Name of Church] Legacy Society.”

          • Consider a Logo – Have a graphic artist develop an appropriate logo for letterhead, bulletin announcements, etc.
          • Consider a Gift – Decide on a gift for members that is special and timeless, for example:  An Icon of patron saint of the church, silver pin, replica of the church’s cornerstone, etc. 

3. Annual Legacy Letter Campaign – Similar to the annual appeal letter, have your rector priest-in-charge, or Legacy Gift Committeesend a letter to the parish asking people to self-identify if they have already made a planned gift of some kind while speaking to the theology of giving, legacy, mission of the church, etc.

          • Generic Legacy Society Invitation letter 
          • Place summary announcement in the bulletin for 3 weeks and announce it at services. Consider the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday as a way to tie in the theme of legacy.
          • Send a follow-up email 1 week later.
          • Collect all names and add to the Legacy Society membership.

4. Create Annual Recognition Event –  It doesn’t matter too much what kind of event you have, so long as it is either fun or interesting or meaningful in some way.  

For example:

          • Dinner at the Rectory.
          • Cocktail reception and dinner at the church, preceded by a prayer service.
          • Wine and Cheese Reception at a local country club.
          • Reception at local museum or art gallery

a. Annual Date – Choose a date that has some meaning to the church and no pre-existing conflicts, but also is a date that will be pre-calendared each year. (Very important – movable dates are easy to get lost in annual planning)

For example: 

            • Church “Founders Day”
            • Pentecost
            • Feast Day weekend of your patron saint

b. Consider a Guest Speaker – A guest speaker helps make the event special.  Their speaking topic will not be to encourage legacy gifts, since the attendees have already made such a gift, but to remind them why they make such a difference. The talk should reinforce their decision, thank them for their commitment, and share with them stories of how legacy gifts make an impact.  


Possible guest speakers:

          • Bishop (great ‘kick off’ speaker)
          • Past beloved, retired rectors
          • Beloved patriarchs/matriarchs of the church
          • Member of the community who were benefited by a legacy gift
          • Member of the parish whose life was changed by a legacy gift
          • Member of the staff whose ministry was expanded by a legacy gift 

c. Promote Annual Recognition Event – In the month leading up to the event:

        1. Send formal invitation to all members of the Legacy Society
        2. Include in bulletin and announcements as you would for any other event making it clear the event is for those who already have done so.
        3. Include this in all promotions, “If you would like help getting started, contact…”  
        4. At the main service prior to the event, recognize the Legacy Society in some way:

For example:

        • Invite them to stand during the service.
        • List their names in the bulletin (add line for anonymous).
        • Bless the icons or whatever might be given away as a Legacy Society gift. 
        • Invite members to wear their pins, etc.

5. Add Planned Giving to the Annual Pledge Card – Add two 2 check boxes on your pledge card (digital and hardcopies) that you run every year:

[   ]  I am interested in making a bequest or other planned gift

[   ]  I have ALREADY remembered St. Paul’s in my estate plans

          • Planning Giving Steering Committee adds any new members to the Legacy Society for inclusion in the next Annual Recognition Event and follows up with anyone who has asked for help getting started.


6. Annually Repeat Steps 3-5 

    1. Letter Campaign
    2. Recognition event
    3. Pledge Card inclusion

7. Keep the following in mind:

          1. Legacy Giving messages should be upbeat, positive, and energetic, because this is a joyous ministry. You’re inviting people to make a dramatic impact on the church they love! 
          2. Be sure everyone knows this is simple to begin and promises a great impact.
          3. Legacy Giving happens over the long run. Steady engagement over years, even 5-10 years, will make a dramatic difference. Keep sharing information, invitations, and awareness. When the moment comes for people to make or adjust estate plans you will be on their minds. That’s when the magic happens! 
          4. You probably do not need to give people specifics on how to give. They can figure that out with their financial advisor. Yet, for those who are curious, the most common ways that people make legacy gifts are as follows.
              • Endow your pledge (multiply your annual pledge by 20-25x and give that amount to give off 4% a year); 
              • Tithe your estate (10%); 
              • Underwrite a ministry (Give 20-25x the amount needed to support a parish ministry to ensure it lasts and thrives when the church pulls 4% a year); 
              • Life Insurance (Even moderate policies that specify the Church as the beneficiary can be transformative for a congregation). 
              • Further information about how to give can be found through the Episcopal Church Foundation here:

Phase II:  Build out your structure. “Run”

When your Legacy Gift Ministry is established, and probably between Year 1 and Year 3, you will want to take your process to the next level by undertaking the following seven steps. Adopt them on your own level, based on your own needs. 

8. Adopt an Undesignated Bequest Policy – When an undesignated gift is received by the church without a policy, the proceeds are at the discretion of the vestry and must be handled on a case by case basis. At times, this can lead to conflict. For example, some members might feel that the Giver would have wanted X, but others may feel that the church most needs Y. Establishing a policy will help avoid such conflicts. Establishing a policy can also encourage planned giving, as givers feel more confident that such gifts will be well managed. Consider having your vestry, bishop’s committee, or board adopt a policy on how undesignated gifts will be handled (For example: 100% to the endowment, part to the endowment, part to the discretion of the vestry, etc.)

9. Gift Acceptance Policy – Not all gifts are desirable or practical.  A policy helps a church reject certain types of gifts. Consider posting it online.

10. Offer Workshops/Classes to Promote Planned Giving — Offer “Life & Legacy” Adult Formation Classes around Ash Wednesday that mix spiritual conversations around purpose/legacy with practical information on elder care, estate planning, etc. All of this will be brought to you by “The Planned Giving Ministry of St…” or “The Legacy Giving Ministry of…”


Titles of such programs might be:

          1. How Anyone Can Leave a Legacy – POD and Life Insurance giving
          2. Designing your Funeral – Tour of the Columbarium 
          3. Write your own Eulogy (What is my purpose? How do I want to be remembered?) 
          4. How Anyone Can Endow Your Pledge (or Favorite Ministry) 
          5. “Ministering to Your Family (After You’ve Passed On)” (funeral director guest speaker shares how making your funeral plans is a way of caring for your family)
          6. Estate Planning Basics (Do I need a trust?  Power of Attorney? Etc.)  
          7. Elder Care and Long-Term Care Planning

11. Add Legacy Giving to your Website

    • Dedicate a subsection of your website to the topic of the Legacy Society, Planning Giving, and how to get started. 
    • Include:
      1. What is Planned Giving, Why it’s Important to your Church
      2. What is the Legacy Society
      3. How to Get Started 
        • Summarize the common types of gifts – Bequest, POD, Life Insurance, Charitable Remainder Trust, etc.
        • What to give?
          1. Endow pledge, Tithe estate, Endow a particular ministry
        • Include EIN numbers, suggested bequest language for attorneys and financial planners
      4. Links to relevant documents – For ex., Gift Acceptance Policy. Bequest Policy

12. Year Round Promotion 

        1. Create Brochure/Track Rack Flyers
        2. Collect and share stories of impact – blog, Facebook, announcements, sermons, etc.
        3. Do some of the things mentioned above, including an annual appeal letter, recognition events, sponsored classes and programs, etc.

13. Develop a Follow-up & Referral System – This system would be for those who want to leave a planned gift but need help getting started. This follow up and referral would involve doing the following with those who are interested:

      1. Meet and review options (i.e. types of planned gifts)
      2. Offer suggestions as to the amount, if needed:
          • Endow pledge?
          • Tithe estate?
          • Endow a particular ministry?
      3. Refer the person to a financial planner/estate planning attorney as needed
            • Have one or two of each who will meet for a free consultation and will reliably take their calls.
            • Supply them with the necessary EIN, legal name, etc. of the church
            • Check in with them to ensure they are sill working with your parishioners

Phase III: Magnify Connections. “Olympics”

Not every person goes to the Olympics as a competitor. In fact, most do not! In the same way, most churches do not need to consider Phase III. However, if your church or ministry relies heavily on estate gifts, or if you have a particularly interested congregation, you will want to begin Phase III work, probably under the direction of a dedicated staff person.

Phase III work is: 

14. More Proactive.

15. More One-on-one.

16. Involving More Complex Giving Vehicles.   

17. Involving More Intensive Marketing. 

18. Involving More Sophisticated Donor Development.