My Annual Conference Thoughts

I’ve had many requests for copies of the information I presented at Annual Conference last week.  Below is my report in its entirety.  Take what is helpful and leave the rest.

They say it’s good to summarize at the beginning of the presentation.  So here’s my summary.  This is the fourth consecutive day you have sat in this auditorium.  We adjourn in four hours and it’s my job to grab and hold your undivided attention.  How tough can that be?

I stand here this morning representing not only the Foundation but also the 150 churches and other ministries, including the Annual Conference, that have chosen to invest their resources with us. As you may or may not be aware, the Foundation does not receive any apportionment or shared ministry funding.  We are entirely supported by our own endowments and the modest investment fees that we charge. 

In 2008 Americans donated more than $300 billion to nonprofit organizations, according to the American Association of Fund Raising Counsel.  You may be surprised that the type of institution that received the most money was religious organizations.  One in three dollars goes to churches, mosques or synagogues.  We do significantly better than colleges, universities, arts organizations, even the United Way.  This has been the case for the 55 years that this study has been conducted.  And giving to UMCOR or other church-related causes doesn’t count. This is only for religious purposes.

But when people reach the end of their lives and make gifts to charities in their wills, churches do not do nearly as well.  While exact figures are tough to come by, that number goes from one in three when they are living to about one in 20 when they pass away.

Why the discrepancy?  I think it’s because we don’t ask for these gifts.

Our five United Methodist Colleges (now colleges and universities) employ a combined 8 full-time professional staff members who have the term “planned giving” in their job titles.  Combined these colleges work with 125,000 living alumni.

In our 784 United Methodist congregations we have 164,000 members, but no full-time planned giving professionals on the staff at the Conference level or in the local church.  I know of just one part-time staff member doing this work in the local church. 

These schools have learned that an ongoing, sustained effort of keeping these kinds of gifts in front of their can result in significant financial resources.

The difference is not the relationship.  Once you graduate from college at age 22 (or these days 25) your relationship with the institution decreases.  Each time you return you see fewer people and buildings you recognize.  The church, however, often becomes more important in its members lives as they age.  In fact this continues several days after death with the church’s involvement in the funeral.

So how am I doing with that undivided attention thing so far?

That same study by the AAFRC shows that for every ten dollars Americans gave away when they were alive, they gave one dollar through their wills.  So if your church is an average nonprofit organization in this country, you should receive one tenth of your annual budget every year in bequests from your members.

As representatives of your local churches I assume that each of you knows about what your church’s annual budget is.  Now imagine receiving one-tenth of that every year to be put into your endowment.  And now imagine if that happened every year for the last 20 years. Sure, it would be a lot of money, but think of that money as a tool for ministry.  How would your ministry be different, how would it affect your ability to truly be a mission outpost if you had those financial resources?

What if every time an opportunity for outreach, for mission, for evangelism, for creative programming came up your church could afford to explore that ministry opportunity?

This year I challenge you to take planned giving seriously.

If your church has an endowment, make sure your members know how endowment proceeds are spent and the difference it makes in the life of your ministry.  Remind them that this is possible because of planned gifts made years ago.

Second, educate your members about planned gifts and how they can support your church.  A conversation around bequests, charitable gift annuities and gifts of other assets will spark thought and conversation without overwhelming them with details.

And third, connect the vision of the future of your church with future gifts such as bequests.  Good visions result in strong giving.

The East Ohio United Methodist Foundation stands ready to assist you and the leaders of your church in making these things happen.

Please let us know how we can help.

  1. […] A good planned giving program must be part of your plans for the next 12 months. […]

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