Accepting and Honoring Memorial and Legacy Gifts

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Most churches have a policy and/or committee that accepts memorial, legacy and honor gifts. Many times, this policy has been around for years and isn’t often updated “because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” But if it’s been a while since you’ve reviewed your memorial policy, there’s no time like the present to make sure it serves the current needs of your church.

There are a few significant issues with the way many memorial policies are written:

  • Are memorial gifts received for very specific items or programs? Although that item may be needed now, will it always be needed? Will that program still be valid in the future? People give memorial gifts as a way to perpetuate the memory of a loved one. What happens when they visit years later and the item that was purchased with the money is no longer around? Or the program becomes obsolete before the money is expended?
  • How may the gift be spent? Does the memorial or endowment committee have the authority to spend the gift without reviewing it with the donor or his or her family?
  • How is the gift being recognized? Many times, a small plaque is attached to a physical item, but again, what happens when that item is no longer around? Many churches have memorial books to recognize gifts, but is this book easily available and constantly updated? And many more churches today don’t allow the use of plaques.

A solution to the first two issues is to create categories to which people can designate their gifts. Make the categories general enough so that money can be spent without too much restriction, but highlight areas in your church that could use additional funding. Categories you could offer include: capital improvements, major repairs and maintenance, Christian education, discipleship, evangelism, scholarships for seminary students, hospitality, missions, music and worship.

Regarding the third point: Saying thank you for lasting gifts is very important. Do you have a plan and process in place to remember and honor those who have given estate or honor gifts? We’re preparing a memorial gift and legacy webpage to offer a meaningful way to recognize those whose special contributions are strengthening our ministry and mission.

One exciting new way to thank donors for such gifts is to create a publicly accessible recognition space with a touchscreen monitor and website as a centerpiece. Information on the website can be personalized for your church, and it’s easy even for folks with limited computer knowledge to edit the site and add gifts to the display.

You can create a beautiful space that includes some or all the following elements:

  • Mural/background: Find a church member or other local artist to work with you to design and paint a background. You could add some wall panels designed to complement the space as well.
  • Interactive display: The touchscreen monitor showcases a website containing all the information about the giving area(s) you are recognizing, as well as highlighting each person being honored or memorialized.
  • Brochures: You also can design and print a brochure or other written communication with information about the display. This printed material can be available at the display and as a takeaway item for any face-to-face meetings about a potential gift.

One of the best features of web-based recognition: it’s accessible from any internet-connected device – home computer, laptops, tablets, smart phones, etc. So even when someone isn’t standing at your physical display, he or she can still look through the information.

Although a public display such as the one recommended here will cost money, the long-term benefits are worth the initial investment. A well-thought-out recognition space and website are a great way to highlight memorial and honor giving in your church. A display and website will encourage others to give those types of gifts, allowing you to continue securing funds for your important mission while being good stewards of the money entrusted to you.

If you have questions about your current memorial, legacy and honor gifts policy, or if it seems outdated to you, put together a group of folks and take a good look at what you’re doing – and why. This becomes a wonderful way to remember and give God thanks for those whose generosity continues to make a difference and bring glory to Him.

Many thanks to David Orth and Nathan Rippke from Enduring Gifts for contributing to this blog.

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