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Ten ways to secure your largest donations ever

How you can encourage long-term and ongoing giving through surplus funds.

By Brian Kluth

Across America churches are beginning to feel the recession’s squeeze on the offering dollars that people place in the plate. While some congregants are struggling financially, we also need to be reminded that there are many with stable incomes or a surplus of financial resources and assets.

So many churches only focus on the weekly collection of current dollars and never have any plans in place to encourage giving from people’s surplus dollars, financial assets or estate gifts. While capital campaigns will always generate larger gifts and pledges, here are 10 additional ideas to help you jump start some ways to get larger gifts on an ongoing basis to fulfill your church’s mission and vision for the future.

1. Start a Legacy Club

Churches are ideal recipients of estate gifts. Unfortunately, it is estimated that only three out of 10 Christians currently have a will, trust or estate plan and many people do not remember to include their church in their will. This is in part because lawyer’s documents do not normally ask people to identify their Christian and charitable interests in their will and estate planning forms.

It’s up to churches to help encourage people to remember the Lord’s work in their estate plans by leaving a percentage of their estate or a specific amount to the church. One way to do this is to start a Legacy Club and invite people that have included the church in their estate plans to let the church know. Some churches make a public list to encourage others to also include the church in their plans.

2. Offer seminars

Many denominations have planned giving departments that can help provide seminars and personal consultations to the church’s older members or anyone in the church interested in developing a well-grounded estate plan. If you are not connected to a denomination that can provide this service, you may be able to retain the help of an experienced estate planning professional, financial professional, estate planning firm or an attorney who specializes in estate planning to assist you in putting on seminars or meal events for people in your congregation.

3. Send generosity brochures with giving statements

Most churches send one or more giving statements each year to their church members. Use this special mailing to include pamphlets and brochures that encourage people to give generously through their regular income, surplus resources or estate plans.

4. Give referrals to Kingdom advisor-trained financial professionals

There is a growing movement in America called Kingdom Advisors (kingdomadvisors.org). This national network of financial professionals meets for biblical and professional training in chapter meetings across America. The goal of this group is to help provide wise, competent and biblical counsel to their clients.

Underlying much of their work is a desire to help clients become more generous to God’s work at their church and ministries they care about. A trained financial professional can be a great asset to a Christian couple, family or individual as they are making giving decisions related to their current income, assets or estate gifts. Pastors and churches would benefit if they found a counselor in their church or community that they can refer people to on an as needed basis.

5. Give out a family organizer gift

As a pastor I have discovered that very few families have their “house in order” when it comes to their faith, finances, estate plans, family history, asset/estate distribution, end-of-life medical wishes and funeral plans. I have sat with many families after the death of a loved one and experienced their grief, but also the hurt and confusion they feel because they really had very little understanding of the person’s final wishes.

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I was so burdened by this “information gap” among families that I spent two years researching, writing and speaking on the subject of families getting their house in order. The result has been a self-published full-color 52-page manual with fill-in-the-blank forms that is called the Because I Love You Family Organizer (MyFamilyForms.org).

6. Send targeted mailings

Planned giving professionals have learned that when people are in their 50s they begin to more actively think about how to both preserve and distribute the wealth they have been accumulating. Any helpful resources a church can provide to the people in their congregation that are nearing retirement and who are already retired will be greatly appreciated.

7. Put estate planning tools on your website

More and more people regularly search the Internet for helpful financial information to assist them in their decision making process. Churches are beginning to see the value of serving their members through helpful resources on their Web site. One church that provides its members with comprehensive information and tools to assist them in the estate planning process is North Point Baptist Church, Weaverville, NC (northpointbaptist.org).

8. Encourage gifts-in-kind of current assets

While Americans are beginning to feel “cash poor,” many people are “stuff rich.” Members of your congregation own houses, investments, land, vehicles, recreational equipment, business inventory, jewelry, artwork and more. In the past, it has been difficult for a church to receive these types of “in-kind” gifts because they had no easy way to turn these resources into cash.

But there are a growing number of Christian community foundations across the country that can help Christians and churches transfer these assets “into” their donor advised fund for the maximum tax benefit and then have the foundation turn around and liquidate the asset for cash. One Web site to handle in-kind transactions is idonate.com. But churches can also use eBay and other auctions to liquidate donated assets.

9. Offer memorial giving opportunities

When a loved one passes away, families are often looking for ways to honor his or her memory. By allowing or encouraging special memorial gifts, you can often generate long-term dollars for scholarships, specific church ministries, building projects, endowments and more. A simple flyer talking about memorial opportunities put in the bulletin, mailing or lobby literature rack has the potential to generate thousands of dollars in special gifts.

10. Preach a message on “Getting Your House in Order”

The reality is that for all of us a time will come when we will not recover and we will breathe our last breath. As pastors we have a spiritual obligation to help encourage people to get things in order before they die. This includes challenging them from the Scripture to get their faith in order, their finances in order, their family in order, their final medical wishes in order and their funeral wishes in order.

By helping people face and prepare for the inevitable, we are being good servants. And a number of these people will choose to honor God with the wealth he has entrusted to them over their lifetime to help advance the Kingdom.

Brian Kluth, Colorado Springs, CO, is a pastor, author and speaker. [GenerousLife.info] 
[MAXIMUMgenerosity.org]

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CHURCHES STEP UP IN A DOWN ECONOMY

A majority of churches (71 percent) saw giving increase or stay steady in 2008, says a survey of more than 1,000 churches in February. MAXIMUMgenerosity.org reports that 47 percent of churches actually saw their giving increase in 2008.

But the survey also showed that 29 percent of churches experienced a decline in giving this past year. In response to the growing economic concerns, 46 percent of churches are holding the line on their budgets and spending for 2009.

Fourteen percent of churches did cut staff positions or payroll costs in response to a decline in giving. A significant number of churches (85 percent) are planning at least two initiatives in 2009 to help the people in their congregations learn to manage their finances and giving according to Biblical principles.

Nearly one third of the churches surveyed indicated they would be increasing their dollars for benevolence ministries to help people in their church and/or communities weather difficult financial times.

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