The Place to Go in Times of Trouble

…people in Wyoming know that the Episcopal Church is where to go in times of trouble. What greater reputation can there be for followers of Jesus?

– the Rev. Liz Rawlings, companion link coordinator from Leicester, England

These encouraging words after a recent visit from one of Wyoming’s five companion dioceses are spot on, for the Diocese of Wyoming takes seriously its call to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. Out in front and on the ground are folks with eyes and ears and hearts open to the needs around them. And right beside them is the Foundation for the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming (FEDW), thanks to people past and present who have named the Episcopal Diocese of Wyoming in their financial or estate plans. Their planned gifts enable FEDW to fulfill its purpose, to support the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Diocese in Wyoming.

FEDW was established in 1989, when the diocese learned that it was named as beneficiary in three trusts. According to FEDW Executive Director Press Stephens, the banks told the Diocese, “you better get ready and have a structure for these assets, because you’re going to fall out of your chair when you hear the numbers.” The Foundation’s first executive director was an attorney, who set up a 501c3 to receive those first bequests and other gifts, keeping the new foundation somewhat separate from the diocese.

“Currently, we have a healthy corpus and will distribute about 3.3 million dollars this year,” says Press. A little over one million of that goes to the diocese in a block grant to cover the major share of its running costs and reduce assessments for individual congregations. “We give away what’s left after the block grant and our operational expenses, all within our spending rule of four percent. It’s astonishing, but here we are with this capacity to do good. We have a clear grant-making structure and policy.”

Working with Episcopal congregations in Wyoming

FEDW’s only full-time employee, Press travels extensively throughout the diocese. Driving eight hundred to a thousand miles a week, he can meet with five, six or even seven parishes in two-and-a-half days. “We’ll discuss their outreach,” he says, “and how we can use these foundation assets in the best way to help them do what God is asking us to do.”

FEDW grant applications need to come from one of the Diocese of Wyoming’s 46 functioning congregations. If an organization comes to the foundation directly, Press tells them, “Invite your local church over and let them see what you are doing.”

“We love this model,” he says. “It’s like having 46 separate sets of eyes and ears on the needs of the surrounding communities, sitting down with community leaders who represent various interests, and saying, what can we do? The application nuts and bolts might come from the organization, but include significant dollars and volunteer hours put in by the congregation.”

One thing Press is working to change is the percentage of grants given each year for church building projects. Since he began work with FEDW in 2011, that figure has gone from 50 to 30 percent. “I’d like it to continue reducing it,” he says. “One thing we like less is enabling improvements that make churches more comfortable. We like to see people feel perhaps less comfortable and get them out in the community.”

Episcopal congregations and FEDW are out in the community

With FEDW’s help, Wyoming’s Episcopal congregations are working throughout the state with service organizations and even creating new ones to address pressing needs beyond the walls of their churches. “We try to provide human services that would otherwise not be funded,” says Press, “needs that vary from town to town, depending on available leadership, expertise, etc. In some places, certain things get done, and in another town, they might not.”

Examples of the varied and innovative programs that FEDW funds include:

  • When the state legislature cut suicide prevention funding – and Wyoming has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation – FEDW stepped in to partner with the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming to provide funding for staff, travel and training across the state. They also helped bring Sources of Strength (SOS), a national program, to a Wyoming community as a pilot program for their school system. At the same time, Wyoming’s bishop, the Rt. Reverend John Smylie, wrote to every state legislator, reminding them that suicide prevention is a public health issue, not something for a grant-making organization to take on. “The following year,” says Press, “the legislature put some of the money back into the budget.”
  • Each week in Cheyenne, volunteers from St. Mark’s help the Friday Food Bag Foundation pack more than 800 bags of non-perishable food for distribution to low-income students in Laramie County schools, students who rely on school meals during the week and might otherwise go hungry on the weekend. (See photo on right of volunteers filling bags)
  • In Thermopolis, Holy Trinity’s Help Center at Common Ground offers a cup of coffee and a listening ear, assistance in finding and accessing services, free GED courses, job counseling and help with budgeting and other life skills.
  • FEDW funding helped St. Andrew’s, Meeteetse and community leaders develop a program that works with teens and ranch and business owners to provide summer jobs and work experience that would not otherwise have been available in the small town of around 350.

Fundraising help for congregations and organizations

FEDW requires congregations applying for a grant to have matching funds. “For example,” says Press, “When the Senior Center in Kemmerer lost its funding for Meals on Wheels and St. James Episcopal Church sponsored their FEDW grant application, the congregation had to put up at least 10 percent of the request in matching funds. So we might help them do a fundraiser or advise them on the best way to use a fraction of their outreach budget to help meet that requirement. At the same time, we want them to keep growing their own outreach funds.”

“We talk with anybody who’s interested about how to work on developing a broader funding base,” says Press. “When an organization is having a tough time raising money, it’s usually because nobody is raising money effectively. Board members may be well intentioned, but they may not have any fund raising expertise. I will visit, talk with the board, help them learn how to broaden their donor base, attract major gifts and get other organizations interested in partnering.”

An advocate for funding for the future and a friend to ECF

“The Diocese of Wyoming actively encourages congregations to build endowments and create planned giving programs,” says Jim Murphy, Managing Director for Endowment Management, Planned Giving and Donor Solutions at the Episcopal Church Foundation (ECF). “A good friend of ECF, FEDW offers a great example for other dioceses.”

When a congregation gets a bequest, FEDW might call and help them consider creating an endowment. “We say, let’s try this way,” says Press. “You’ll have this great receivership for gifts that’s well set up, and prospective donors will want to give. We often suggest ECF as a real good option in these conversations. It has a smart endowment management program. I like it a lot and have helped several of our congregations establish endowment funds managed by ECF.”

FEDW’s website sends people to ECF for information on planned giving, but Press says that they plan to develop a section more focused on their diocese. “We want to use our own stories, talk about things that people of modest means can do – some as simple as naming their church as a contingent beneficiary in their will or on a life insurance policy. Often that line is left blank! Anyone can leave a percentage of their estate to their church, as if it were another child.”

He admits that he loves ECF’s planned giving material . “When I show up to talk about planned giving, my favorite thing to give them is ECF’s ‘Funding Future Ministry’. It’s the best tool for establishing a planned giving program – perhaps the best information and guide that I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen lots of planned giving booklets. I buy copies like pancakes, and hand them out to anybody with the slightest interest in planned giving.” Also available for separate purchase, “Funding Future Ministry,” is an important component of ECF’s comprehensive planned giving toolkit, Planned Giving on Demand.

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,” now in it's 23rd year and published by Forward Movement.