8 Ways to Encourage Bequests

September 18, 2009

Planned Giving, The Pilot

By Richard Ely

How can you best encourage parishioners to consider making a bequest to your parish?  Here are eight ideas.  Implementing just one of them will increase the probability that your parish will be included in your parishioners’ wills.

(1) Include a one-sentence reminder about wills and estate planning in every weekly bulletin. The idea is to keep the subject of bequests in front of your parishioners throughout the year.  You never know when a parishioner is going to have a will drafted for the first time or revise an existing will.  When they do, you want them to remember your parish.

(2) Feature brief articles on end-of-life issues from a Catholic perspective periodically in your bulletin.  Catholic end-of-life issues include the role of suffering, how to continue to be part of your parish’s faith community as you age, the importance of health care proxies, why living wills are not desirable.  The CLS can provide such articles.

(3) Create your own parish’s Catholic Legacy Society. It is possible to use the Archdiocese’s Catholic Legacy Society materials to create your own parish legacy society.  The purpose of the Catholic Legacy Society is to thank and recognize those people who include parishes in their estate plans.

(4) Send letters to parishioners.  You can send letters from the pastor or from key lay leadership asking your parishioners to include the parish in their estate plan and inviting them to membership in the parish’s Catholic Legacy Society.  You can also briefly summarize the benefits of estate planning for them and their families and for the parish.  To save money, consider including this information when you mail your parish’s annual report or grand annual letter. 

(5) Hold seminars on Catholic end-of-life issues.  Seminars are wonderful places for parishioners to learn about Catholic teachings about end-of-life issues and the nuts-and-bolts of estate planning.  Topics include wills and trusts, health care proxies, life sustaining treatment and care for people who can no longer decide for themselves, the redemptive nature of suffering and how estate planning is a key activity of a Christian steward.

(6) Partner with parish ministries.  Many parishes have ministries where estate-planning and end-of-life planning dovetail nicely.  There are bereavement ministries, visitation of the sick, healing services, senior groups, book clubs, stewardship, development and stewardship committees.  Each of these has a natural tie-in to estate planning and bequest conversations.  As part of these activities, it is easy to ask people to remember the parish when they are doing their estate plans.

(7) Include bequest and related estate planning in stewardship presentations.  Stewardship is about recognizing the gifts one has received from God and thanking Him for these gifts.  It is about tending these gifts in a responsible and accountable manner and sharing them in justice and love with others.  Finally, a good steward returns his or her gifts to the Lord with increase.  Estate planning is a wonderful way to talk about stewardship and stewardship is a wonderful way to talk about estate planning.

(8) Explain to parishioners what you will do with the money.  If you are asking people to include you in their wills and estate plans, it is important to give them some idea of what the money could be used for.  You may want to have a fund for future emergencies or to pay salaries when the economy makes offertory collections go down.  You may also want to build a legacy for the future – helping future generations have the kind of experience you have had.

Richard Ely is Director of Stewardship & Gift Planning at The Catholic Foundation.  He is the author of the Archdiocesan Guide for “Promoting Planned Gifts in Parishes.”  For more information about Planned Giving, please visit www.CatholicLegacySociety.org or contact Richard at 617-779-3702 or rely@rcab.org.

This article originally appeared in a special “Parish Stewardship & Fundraising” section of The Pilot on September 18, 2009

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