Starting Planned Giving from Scratch

January 13, 2012

What’s the sure-fire way to set up a planned giving effort from scratch in any congregation? There’s no magic bullet. I’ve worked with congregations all across the country, and I’ve learned that each is unique. However, there are some basic steps that should work for almost any Episcopal faith community:

Choose your Shepherd: Appoint and empower at least one leader to oversee your effort.

Empowered and appropriate leaders are essential for success in every ministry. Your planned giving ministry is no different. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Your PG shepherd (and yes, you can choose more than one) should be knowledgeable about your congregation, its history and ministries, and care deeply about its future.
She/he should be responsible, trustworthy, discreet, well-respected, and happy to work with others.
Your PG shepherd does NOT need to be a professional fundraiser, financial consultant, or lawyer. However, your shepherd should be willing to learn the basics about planned giving.
There are many planned giving resources available, but the Episcopal Church Foundation provides a number of free or low-cost resources and educational opportunities, including brochures and webinars. ECF’s guide for planned giving, Funding Future Ministry, is also a great educational tool. Additionally dioceses offer informational and training resources for planned giving leaders, so you should be sure to check with them as well.

Chart your course in reverse: Pick a date to do a future event and make a plan to spread the word.
Is a significant anniversary for the parish coming up in the next year or two? If you have something, great! That could be an opportunity to launch your PG efforts with a celebration of people who have already remembered your parish in their estate plans. This may also be a good time to build awareness about the different types of planned gifts.

If there’s no upcoming special day, that’s ok too. Just pick a date when you think the maximum number of people will be available. Generally you should allow somewhere between 14-18 months from your initial planning and your chosen date on the parish calendar. Lenten Sundays or All Saints Day might be appropriate, for example. Once you’ve set the date, your PG shepherd and others can plan events leading up to it. If you need help with this planning, just contact ECF at or local diocese.

Plan to Say Something Soon: Begin to raise awareness around the parish about planned gifts.
Review the parish calendar to find the next full-congregation meeting — the annual meeting, or another large gathering. Prior to this meeting, meet with the vestry to find out who among them has already remembered your parish with a gift in their will, life insurance, remainder of IRA or a trust. Even if none of them has set up a planned gift yet, brainstorm with them a list of who else in the parish may have done so. From your full list, pick one person who is well-respected and has already set up a planned gift, then have the PG shepherd ask if that person would be willing to speak for a few minutes at this next parish gathering. This testimonial, without telling the dollar amount, demonstrates why he/she made this very significant gift for the congregation’s future and will inspire others to consider a gift too.

Ask your parishioners: Find out who has raised the parish to the level of family in their estate plans.
Discover who else has already included the congregation in their estate/retirement plans. You could include a response card in your next parish mailing, or add an option on your next pledge card asking, “Check here if you have you remembered the parish in your estate plans.”  Please be sure to keep record of these responses. They demonstrate who will make a planned gift, and who could become new PG shepherds or other leaders in the future.

For more information:  On how ECF can help your congregation learn more from other congregations who have started their own planned giving programs and legacy societies, please e-mail:

Jim Murphy is Senior Program Director of Stewardship Services at the Episcopal Church Foundation. He oversees ECF’s planned giving and endowment management work, leading workshops and working with parishes, dioceses, and other Episcopal organizations to assist them to enhance and develop their programs. Jim also supervises ECF’s work in Annual Stewardship/Giving and Development Solutions.