Three Steps Toward Building an Endowment Fund for Your Church

March 25, 2009 by  
Filed under Financial

sunset_cross_square150x1311For all the good churches do, most of the funding for their ministries come from pledges. What if every church was endowed? Here are some suggestions you can employ in your church to build a bigger endowment fund.

All 88 keys of the Phoenix Symphony’s Steinway piano are endowed. They went for $5,000 a key. Penn State has every position on its football team endowed.

Is your church endowed? If not, why not?

The church I just started to attend just celebrated its 50th anniversary. It’s not a big church – about 350 members. It finished 2008 $33,000 in the red.

This is not unusual. Because of the current economic climate, many churches took a big hit the fourth quarter of 2008. In a December 1, 2008 article, The Barna Group predicted that churches would receive $3 billion to $5 billion less than expected the last quarter of 2008.

Financing ministries from the interest on endowment funds goes a long way toward shielding the good a church can do from economic downturns.

Some churches have done a good job building their endowment fund. I would refer you to ‘Financing American Religion” by Mark Chaves and Sharon L. Miller. However, every church can do more. Here are several of my opinions about some of the steps needed to build a church’s endowment fund.

1. Fish where the big fish swim

You probably have heard of the 80/20 rule, which holds that 80% of anything comes from 20% of the people involved in the activity. With respect to building an endowment fund, it’s more like 98/2. You need to concentrate on major gifts. 98% of the money will come from 2% of your congregation.

2. Solve a problem

While it is true that many donors are 100% altruistic, you stand a better chance of getting a major gift if you can show a major donor how to solve a problem that simultaneously results in a gift to your church.

Most of these problems involve tax savings. For example, how to sell a business without paying a capital gains tax and how to pass on wealth to the next generation without first giving half of the person’s estate to the government are typical examples.

Yes, I know, the tax aspect of major gifts is not the primary reason gifts are made. Most of the time, it’s not even on a person’s list. Nevertheless, if you can show someone who is interested in your cause how to make a gift that satisfies his or her interest and support of your mission and help them solve a problem at the same time, your chances of getting the gift (maybe even a larger one) is enhanced.

3. Provide case study information

I believe that many potential major donors do not know about the planning techniques the law allows that lead to a major gift.

In my financial and estate planning practice of 39 years, I called on numerous business owners who had no idea they had a problem. No one had ever pointed the problem out to them. My view is that it’s the same lack of communication of “what’s possible” that limits the receipt of major gifts by a church.

If you provide examples of what others have done to solve specific problems, people can easily see if the solution might work for them. This is the first step in opening up a dialogue about the possibility of a major gift.

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  • Brooke Fraser

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