Shadow Donors

In truth, each of us journeys through life like a shadow. We busy ourselves accomplishing nothing, piling up assets we can never keep; We can’t even know who will end up with those things. (Psalm 39:6, The Voice)

Scripture describes our lives as a “mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14), grass that springs up new in the morning, “but by evening it is dry and withered” (Psalm 90:6), a passing breeze that does not return (Psalm 78:39), a swift weaver’s shuttle that comes to an end without hope (Job 7:6), and a fleeting shadow (Ecclesiastes 6:12).

David observed in Psalm 39 that most people live busy lives but don’t accomplish anything of eternal value. They accumulate assets they can never keep and have no idea who will finally end up with all their things. Who will inherit your possessions? You only have three options: the government, your children, or charity.

The Government
New York Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner, died from a heart attack on July 13, 2010, at age 80. Many people think that the Steinbrenner family hit a home run with estate taxes when he passed away. Why? In 2010 there were no estate taxes. In fact, 2010 was the only year with no estate taxes. If he had died in 2009 or 2011, his widow and four children would have paid an estimated $500 million to $600 million in estate taxes.

Your Children
Your ministry partners have no guarantee their children will make wise financial decisions or, like the prodigal son, squander their wealth in wild living (Luke 15:13). Solomon bemoaned leaving his inheritance to those who would follow him, “And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish?” (Ecclesiastes 2:19). Today’s donors also question how much to leave their children—some don’t need the money, others would waste it, and sadly, some have wandered from the faith.

It makes logical sense that someone who has been generous to your ministry throughout their life, would be generous in their death. Unfortunately, many people don’t even think about including charity in their estate plans. One easy way is to encourage your donors to tithe their estate. Another creative approach is to encourage your donors to adopt a child named, “Charity.” A donor with three children would typically divide their estate in thirds, by adopting “Charity,” each beneficiary would receive 25%.
We shy away from planned giving conversations because we perceive them as complicated. Your job is to keep it simple. Don’t worry about structuring a gift. Instead, focus your efforts on telling your ministry story and asking your donors to make a gift that will last beyond their lifetime. We often rely on literature to present giving opportunities, but the strongest approach is to ask face to face.

Think About This: McDonald’s heiress, Joan Kroc, left more than $200 million to NPR. Her transformative 2003 bequest wasn’t because of a major gift officer’s strategy, it was because she remembered meeting with NPR’s then-president, Kevin Klose, who had hoped Kroc would give at the $25,000 level. Go meet with your planned giving prospects and ask!

Response: Lord, give me boldness to personally ask my donors to remember our ministry in their estate plans.

Ron Haas has served the Lord as a pastor, the vice president of advancement of a Bible college, a Christian foundation director, a board member and a fundraising consultant. He’s authored two books: Ask for a Fish – Bold Faith-Based Fundraising and Simply Share – Bold, Grace-Based Giving. He regularly presents fundraising workshops at ministry conferences and has written fundraising articles for At the Center magazine and Christian Leadership Alliance’s Outcomes magazine.

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