Planned Giving Programs For Churches

Church Matters

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Should a Church Have a Planned Giving Program?

If you’ve been brainstorming fundraising ideas, you may have tried church yard sales, basket raffles, or capital campaigns. An alternative idea is to create a planned giving program for your church, allowing your congregation to draw charitable donations from their estate. This type of contribution will help your church and your congregation plan for the long-term.

Why Aren’t More Churches Doing This?

All sorts of nonprofit organizations have very successful planned giving or legacy programs. Meanwhile, many churches aren’t focusing on this type of contribution. It can be difficult to dedicate time and resources to long-term giving, when your church may have immediate financial needs.

In addition, asking for money can be uncomfortable, especially if you are asking people to make a donation after they’ve passed away. But remember that you’re creating an opportunity for people to give back and strengthen their relationship with the church. Plus, making this kind of gift may not ever occur to parishioners until you ask.

Planned Giving Versus Regular Contributions

You may fear that making a request for planned giving will hurt your regular collections and donations, but it may actually help. Once someone starts thinking about what’s important to them and realizes the church is a priority, they may decide to get more involved with the church.

Starting a planned giving program is a great way to take people who make small weekly donations now and turn them into larger donors in the future. Planned gifts will be drawn from assets after a parishioner no longer has to worry about their savings.

How Does a Church Start a Planned Giving Program?

Before you start asking for gifts, you should determine:

  • Why you’re considering planned giving
  • Where the money will go
  • Who will oversee the program
  • How the money will be used
  • How you can make it easy for people to donate

When someone is considering making a gift, they’re probably asking the same exact questions. You may not have all the answers right now but forming a committee, a plan, and an endowment can help you get there. And there’s no need to start all of this from scratch. There are online resources you can use as a guide.

While you should make the program available to your whole congregation, people who have retired are much more likely to be thinking about their will and estate.

When you do ask people to make a planned giving donation, recognize that they may have other priorities. Politely ask them to consider the church after they take care of their families.

What Assets will You be Accepting?

A wide variety of items could be included in a will — real estate, money, stocks, business assets, jewelry, art, cars, and cherished items with sentimental value.

Creating an acceptance policy will help reduce the number of hard-to-liquidate items you receive. The policy will define how you’ll deal with different assets, and it will make the whole process easier and more understandable for potential donors.

Start Promoting Your Program

If you have a church bulletin or newsletter, this is a great place to start mentioning your planned giving program. Keep it short and educational. You could even offer sample language for leaving a bequest here or on your website. Your church publication is also a great place to thank parishioners who have donated.

People may have questions about the planned giving program. If someone calls the church, make sure your staff know who the point of contact is and how to connect parishioners to that individual(s).

A giving program that is thoughtfully planned and executed can be a great way for parishioners to connect with your church’s mission.


Dr. Tom McElheny has served as an Elder and director of Christian education for three Sarasota, Florida churches, holds advanced degrees in business and education, and is CEO of his company ChurchPlaza.

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