A red apple

Endowments - Tending the Orchard

Dear Fr. Zagloba,

I've got exciting news. I just emailed the final documents to Jim at the Catholic Foundation. St. Catherine's now officially has an endowment. That's one small step for a fundraiser and one giant leap for St. Catherine's.

Now we need to figure out a way to tell people about it. Raising money for an endowment is a marathon, not a sprint. It would be a wonderful surprise if we got some big gifts right off the bat, but in reality we probably won't start getting gifts in any significant number for 5-7 years.

When we first started talking about creating an endowment, I compared it with planting an apple seed. This analogy is very useful here. Now that the seed is planted, we have to tend the orchard for the next several years without seeing any fruit. We will need to invest in this orchard - time, energy, resources - if we ever want the satisfaction of biting into that first piece of crisp, delicious fruit.

Build a drip watering system

With such a long time horizon, it's important to have a marketing plan that will slowly but consistently make people aware of the endowment's existence. I suggest that we combine four different elements to make our 'watering system'.

  1. Regular announcements - It's hard to beat you standing up at the end of Mass and telling folks about the endowment and inviting them to consider writing a gift to the endowment in their will. This shouldn't be all the time, mind you, but it needs to part of the annual calendar of announcements. You should at least mention it in the fall when we're doing our annual stewardship renewal and in the spring when you kick off the Bishop's annual appeal.
  2. Bulletin advertising - People take their bulletins home. They certainly at least thumb through it, because otherwise they would leave them on back table. What we put into the bulletin doesn't have to be huge and wordy. It doesn't have to change all the time. All it needs is the name of the endowment, a phrase like "Please consider leaving a legacy by making a gift to St. Catherine's endowment. For more information call …"
  3. Website information - We can add a section to the website with information about different ways to give to the endowment. We don't want to overwhelm people with information, but we should at least mention the following ways to give to the endowment: bequests, gifts of stock, insurance policies, gifts of real estate, and retirement accounts.
  4. Legacy Society - One big way to encourage people to let us know to expect a gift is to start a legacy society. Once a parishioner notifies us of an intended gift, the legacy society makes sure they feel thanked and appreciated. We can host an annual legacy society dinner catered by the Church to say thank you. Eventually, we'll want to set up a 'Legacy Wall' which thanks all of the donors that have made either gifts or gift commitments. We can honor the new members of the legacy society at each annual dinner. You can mention it when you're announcing the endowment and we can also create a brochure promoting the legacy society for the brochure rack in the Narthex.

These four elements should go a long ways to letting people know that the endowment exists and encouraging them to give. If we had more resources, we might include a fifth element: a staff person that went out and personally asked people to make gifts from their estates to the endowment. In fundraising terms this person would be called a "Planned Giving Officer". We don't have that kind of money, so I only mention it so you know that there is more that we could do if we had more money.

Selecting the Fertilizer

I think the 'why' of promoting the endowment is even more important than the 'how.' It's the fertilizer that will keep it growing. Planned giving and estate gifts are typically the biggest gifts that people ever make in their lives. A planned gift might be anywhere from 10-100 times larger than any gift they have ever made to anything. So focusing on the why is especially important.

Since we're in the Advent season, we have a feast day that provides us a deeper understanding of what giving to the Church is really all about. I know your thoughts immediately go to Christmas, which is the most givingest holiday of the year, but that's not what should pull our focus. No, I'm thinking of Epiphany, the feast of the Three Kings.

Remember what the kings told Herod? They wanted to find the new King so they might worship him. When they found Jesus, they worshipped him and brought him gifts. It seems obvious to me that bringing gifts is a part of their worship. They didn’t just bring any gifts, they brought gifts fit for a king. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

A gift to the endowment should be an act of worship for the donor. A gift at the end of their life to give thanks to God for all that He has so generously given to them. It should be the best gift they have ever given, and they should be encouraged to give joyfully because they know that such a gift will help to support the work of the Church for generations to come.

Tend the orchard

With the right fertilizer and the right irrigation system, our endowment will start producing fruit. As long as we continue to tend our little 'orchard,' it will continue to grow - both through new gifts and sound investment strategy. It will take years before it becomes what we envision it to be. In fact, you will probably be off in another parish before it really begins to produce income that will transform St. Catherine's. But YOUR legacy, and the endowment that you started, will go on and on.


The Almoner

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Image courtesy of Sharon Mollerus, via Creative Commons License, some rights reserved.