St. Mark’s Capital Campaign sparks Legacy Lions

Making your will is up there with dieting and exercise in the long list of things— some more important than others—that most of us put off as individuals. And developing a planned giving program shows up on another list that might be devised for congregations. But our faith puts death squarely in the picture, and our congregations can help us face into its inevitability and deal faithfully and lovingly with the gifts we have accumulated over the course of our lives.

Convinced that healthy and vibrant future ministries in our churches will be built upon the legacies we leave today, the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF) has provided planned giving services since 1995. Jim Murphy, Managing Director for the organization’s Endowment Management, Planned Giving and Donor Solutions, says of their work to encourage and support planned giving, “We’re helping people to face up to their own mortality and plan to ensure that their wishes are fulfilled.

“In addition to online webinars and other resources, we offer personal and customized services to help congregations implement planned giving programs. While there is complexity in estate planning, what is simple and what we help leaders promote, is that people want a long-term relationship with their parish, raising it to the level of family.”

St. Mark’s capital campaign brings ECF on board

The leaders of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. realized in 2010 that the congregation needed to rethink and modernize its buildings—the original 1880s church, early 20th century parish hall and nearby townhouse used for offices, classrooms and storage space. They were well aware that the effort would lead to a capital campaign and a major building project, but it had been 25 years since their last campaign. “We knew,” says Kenn Allen, senior warden at the time, “that we would need help.”

Their search for assistance led them to the Episcopal Church Foundation. “We brought ECF in at the earliest stages to help us figure out what we were doing,” says Mike Townsend, who co-chaired the capital campaign and building project that followed with Kenn. “ECF has a great roadmap for how to get it all going, and then you develop it in your own style. It’s an overwhelming project, and to say ‘these are the things you need to do first’ was really important.”

The campaign launched in 2012 and raised a good deal more than was projected. The congregation went on to sell the townhouse, do a major renovation on the parish hall and manage some simpler work on the nave and undercroft. That work has changed the dynamic of St. Mark’s, according to Kenn. “First, we have space we can be proud of—flexible, modern space for our own use and to share with outside groups. Second, we learned how to do this, that it doesn’t kill us, that we can ask each other for money. And the final benefit was that it led us into planned giving.”

From capital campaign to planned giving

ECF’s mission to be “a comprehensive and holistic resource” means that planned giving, endowment practices, gift policies and procedures, are all discussed during a capital campaign. The initial interviews and survey that preceded the launch of St. Mark’s capital campaign included a component that asked whether respondents had made provision for the church in their wills and whether they would be interested in learning more about planned giving. “Like lots of churches, we were equally surprised every time we found out someone had given a bequest,” says Mike, “and the question in the campaign gave us a ready-made list of interested people.”

It wasn’t until 2017, though, that St. Mark’s leadership was ready to begin developing a planned giving program. Kenn and St. Mark’s rector, Michele Morgan, worked with Jim Murphy, and an ad hoc committee was set up to start creating a program. They decided to begin with a legacy society—St. Mark’s Legacy Lions—a critical first step. “You can’t have a legacy society without raising awareness about what it mean to leave a planned gift,” says Jim.

A letter from the rector and Rob Hall, the stewardship chair, was sent to those who had indicated during the campaign that they’d included St. Mark’s in their wills. The letter asked if they had done that and whether they wished to be a founding member of Legacy Lions and to be identified as such. The society’s creation was announced in the congregation, and parishioners who were 60 or older received further information in a letter asking whether they had made a bequest and inviting them to a kickoff event in the fall.

By the Legacy Lions Founding Dinner in November of 2017, they had signed up 70 people, mostly 60 and above. St. Mark’s next steps include developing ways to provide education and support for planned giving to keep their efforts ongoing.

St. Mark’s future depends on “all of us”

Nora Howell, St. Mark’s senior warden, says, “It was a really smart thing to do, to ask people to think a little longer term about their commitment to St. Mark’s and to be up front about it. For me personally—I’m not one of the wealthy parishioners—it raised my awareness that it’s something that I should consider in my own will. If the question hadn’t been asked, I doubt that I would have done anything at all.”

The Legacy Lions kick-off, a catered dinner in St. Mark’s beautiful nave, was a lovely event. “It was really helpful,” says Nora. “What felt good about it, was looking around the room and seeing how many other people had already made that commitment. A person with more means can feel on the spot, anxious about being the sustainer of the parish, so for that person, I imagine it was gratifying to know that ‘you all aren’t counting on only me.’ And it feels good for the rest of us. It’s on all of us and we will give according to our means. No one’s the only one.”

Building relationships with congregations

Louise Baietto, ECF’s Managing Program Director for Strategic Resources and Client Services, is the point person when a church seeks assistance with a capital campaign, a special appeal, annual giving and stewardship, or visioning and planning. When talking with churches, she tries to learn as much as possible about the congregation. “We want to cultivate relationships with congregations so they will understand the resources, both free and fee-based, that ECF provides,” she says. “Sometimes a capital campaign is a church’s first experience with ECF, and for that reason, planned giving, endowment practices and gift policies and procedures are all discussed during the campaign.”

That was certainly true for St. Mark’s. Kenn sums up the congregation’s experience this way: “We started in 2010, and ECF has been present with us in one form or another through all of it, indispensable in the planning, organization and execution of the original capital campaign. Planned giving could be learned in other places, but it was perfectly packaged by ECF.

“For us, ECF has been a wonderful resource.”

Susan Elliott is a writer and editor, working with the Episcopal Church Foundation, Forward Movement, RenewalWorks, and parishes and other organizations in the Episcopal Church. She is the writer of ECF’s 2015 Vestry Resource Guide, and collaborates with Jay Sidebotham on “Slow Down. Quiet. It’s Advent.”