Lutherans in the Twin Cities

A heart-sized gift

Is it time to consider serious money for a few favorite places?

Are you thinking of where your significant financial gifts will go? Will it be an
education wing at church or a scholarship at your alma mater?

What should your money buy? Something you think your church or college or
synod needs? Or, something your church or college or synod seeks?

More about that potential dissonance in a moment. First, however, legacy
giving reaches a different level than your weekly gift at church. It’s about
“what we would like to preserve beyond our own lives,” says Bruce Ensrud,
senior financial consultant with Thrivent Financial for Lutherans in Golden
Valley, Minnesota. “It paints the whole conversation with a different brush.”
For example, an Ensrud client donated to 28 organizations. Generous? Yes.
Yet Ensrud urged her to choose two or three institutions for legacy giving
that would make a significant difference.

You may not think of yourself as rich, but you can likely make an eventual
six-figure gift to your congregation or another institution with an asset that
isn’t liquid yet — your home, your retirement fund, or your insurance.
You needn’t wait, though. At Augsburg College in Minneapolis, a scholarship
named for you starts at $25,000 — fairly typical among colleges.

You may find that you like giving money away. Some donors “had no idea
how much joy and satisfaction and how much fun it would be to make a gift,”
says Brenda Moore, regional gift planner with ELCA Foundation.

Concordia University in St. Paul hosts an annual luncheon for donors and
students receiving scholarships. Any deferred or estate gift is “wonderful,”
says Nathan Laible, Concordia’s director of planned giving — but if you wait
to give, you may never meet the students you help.

You can give while you live and still have enough to pay bills. A charitable gift
annuity can cover your expenses while feeding money to a recipient of your
choice. Then when you’re gone, what’s left goes to that recipient.

But how do you decide where your money goes? Fund-raisers who call
should be good listeners. “It’s me listening to what their goals are and me
sharing some ideas they might not be aware of,” says Concordia’s Laible. He
does “a little matchmaking” between givers’ priorities and Concordia’s needs.
No doubt you already have a relationship with intended recipients. That is
good. “A donor has to trust an organization,” says the Rev. Peter Rogness,
bishop of ELCA’s Saint Paul Area Synod.

Your pastor may already have identified you as a joyful giver. Rogness relied
on such references to help raise money for Crossing Bridges, a three-year, $2
million mission effort by 115 ELCA St. Paul area churches. Target givers were
members who “would like to be a part of this,” says Rogness. “We’re not
twisting people’s arms to get a $5 bill out of their pocket when the offering
plate goes by.”

Donors’ reasons for giving are personal. Kathy Hansen, vice president for
seminary relations at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, remembers a successful
businessman whose grandmother wanted him to be a pastor. “His calling was
business,” says Hansen. “Not wanting to disappoint his grandmother,” he
donated to a scholarship fund so others could become pastors.

Some donors count Christ as an heir. Money left to children is taxed. Not so
with a church, college, or synod. Moreover, how generous do you want to be
with family? “It might destroy incentives to work,” reasons Luther Seminary’s
Hansen. “Or, they may not perhaps use it as responsibly as parents might

On the other hand, Hansen notes, sometimes people try to give too much —
leaving too little to live on. A good financial planner can help you give away
money and still have enough to meet your needs.

In this economy, of course, gift officers will understand if you want to wait.
“They may say, ‘Come back in a year,’” says Douglas Scott, assistant vice
president for development at Augsburg College.

Finally, what happens if you want to fund something that’s not quite right for
your church or college? Something beyond the institution’s mission? Donors
may even want to put money into hot button issues that might divide the
receiving community — gay rights or creationism, for example.

When a gift is off target, good gift planners will suggest an alternative
recipient. “It’s like trying to force a square peg into a round hole,” says
ELCA’s Moore. “My experience is that it can simply just be frustrating for both
donor and organization to try to force something that is not a priority for the

Receiving institutions have their own priorities. Don’t expect your church or
college to make itself over for you. Remember — it’s a gift. “The very essence
of the gift is something that is given without any expectation of return,”
Moore notes.

The earliest Christians expected to give everything. That has changed — but
one thing hasn’t: Christian institutions still count on your heart to lead you.