Legacy Giving and the Beloved Community

 To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived.  This is to have succeeded.

                                                       ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are many kinds of gifts that can be given and received.   Gifts can be tangible or intangible, large or small, simple or complex, and everything in between.   The gifts we give may be delivered with pizzazz for all to see, or stealthily without any public recognition.  Our giving may take place at regular intervals throughout our lifetimes, or passed on after we die.   Ultimately, most of us want our giving to make the world a better place.

Giving is a behavior or practice of making a choice to give a gift of money, time, possessions, talent, attention to others.  Our giving is an expression of our deepest-held values and priorities, and at its best, a spiritual practice that benefits others and blesses the world.  It is important to remember that our ability to give and making a positive difference does not require us to be of any particular age or in possession of great wealth.  What is required is a spirit of generosity and a philanthropic mindset.  There are a variety of means and tools available to help us with our giving in all its expressions.

Generosity is a state of being and mindset, with an inner awareness of having enough to share.  Generosity offers a way of living in deep relationship with the world and its inhabitants and expressing gratitude for all that is received.   Faith communities nurture generosity through religious teachings and opportunities for mission- and values-based giving.

Philanthropy derives from the Greek meaning “loving of humankind” and involves one’s actions and giving in support of humanitarian purposes.  Similarly, Charity refers to love of humanity and benevolent goodwill toward others.  Religious organizations and faith communities are uniquely positioned as venues for charitable giving.

Legacy Giving involves giving that is planned during one’s lifetime for the benefit of the people, causes, communities, and organizations beyond their lifetime.  This is done through explicitly stating how one’s money, possessions, or property is to be distributed, such as making a bequest of dollar amounts or percentage of assets.   Religious organizations and local congregations must make planned giving opportunities available to those who care deeply about sustaining their faith and their beloved community into the future.

What we do know from national giving data (USA Giving 2010) is that the majority of charitable dollars are given by individuals (81%), with bequests making up eight percent (8%) of total giving.    The largest proportion of charitable dollars are given to religious organizations, but this share is decreasing with the dramatic increase of other secular and nonprofit organizations competing for financial support.

Mature Americans (age 55 years and older) account for nearly $7 trillion in the following financial categories:

     -80% of all funds in savings,

-77% of America’s financial assets,

-70% of the net worth of all U.S. households

However, only forty percent (40%) of Americans have prepared wills and a mere six percent (6%) have included charitable bequests in their wills.   Our elders whom make up what is known as  the “silent” or “greatest generation” have amassed unprecedented wealth, with much of it held in real estate and retirement plans.

Currently, with the aging of the generations, we are experiencing the greatest transference of wealth ever seen, estimated at $41 trillion.   This is the right time for all congregations and faith-based organizations to establish or strengthen their planned giving programs.  These programs should be carefully structured and managed in keeping with recommended standards and best practices that honor the givers and their intent for their gifts.   There are many planning tools available, and most religious organizations have current information, knowledgeable staff, and giving programs available to assist congregations and individual donors.

It is essential for congregations to nurture generosity inspired by and connected to the values and teachings of the faith, to actively encourage expression of gratitude through intentional giving, and to offer opportunities for the faithful to leave a legacy of benefit to their beloved community.

You can’t do anything about the length of your life, but you can do something about its width and depth. 

                                                                ~Evan Esar

For more information on charitable giving and planned giving programs:

The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Planned Giving Office: http://www.uua.org/giving/planned/index.shtml

For more information about Philanthropic Giving, the Donor Bill of Rights, and Model Standards of Practice for the Charitable Gift Planner:

The Association of Fundraising Professionals:  http://www.afpnet.org/

Partnership for Philanthropic Planning:  http://pppnet.org

The Sharpe Group:   http://www.sharpenet.com/gt/pdfs/2012/may12.pdf