“Legacy Giving? What Does That Even Mean?”

May 5, 2014

In just over four years with Generis I’ve walked into many churches and had conversations about giving. Yet through all those conversations, I’ve only heard one pastor tell me about the legacy plan his church had designed and was implementing successfully. It just so happens that the church is my home church, Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, and the Stewardship Pastor is Dr. Don Mann. 

Full disclosure, I was just asked to serve on the board of the ProVision Foundation which is the arm that Dr. Mann and Calvary set up to benefit the church. It’s already been an eye opening experience for me, and I think that all pastors and church staff should have the chance to learn from Dr. Mann. So along those lines I asked him if he would be willing to do an interview with me, and he graciously agreed. 

Dr. Mann, you started ProVision back in 2002. What was the vision for the foundation at that time?

“The seed of the vision was a desire to fund the future of Calvary’s ministry advancement in the areas of missions, Christian education, and capital needs.”

What were your concerns when you started the program?

“Basically, the big concerns were gaining clear thinking about the real potential and liabilities of a church supporting foundation. We had to overcome overly optimistic thinking as well as catastrophic thinking about what a supporting foundation could be.  We came to discover that creating a foundation that was a separate organization with detailed operating agreements and governance was the key to addressing concerns and creating a partnership with the church and the foundation that could serve the church and at the same time serve individual donors with great confidentiality and professional direction for tax-wise gifts or bequests.”

How has the foundation proven important for Calvary?

“Over the years, the foundation has served Calvary by facilitating the gift planning process, by distributing over $1.2M in current gifts and over $20M in bequests to the church. Many of the current gifts were received through those who had a current gift component of their overall estate plan.”

What is the role of the senior pastor with a program like this?

“In one word, essential. Executive leadership (participation) and sponsorship (advocating because you know the real purpose) is the key to the congregation adopting the gift planning purpose and process.”

Why should churches have a plan for legacy gifts?

“First and foremost, it’s a matter of stewardship. The gift planning process with a Christian estate professional is less of a tax-avoidance conversation and more of an eternal values conversation. I think the conversation is ultimately what do you value?  The plan and the resulting gifts are the benefits of that stewardship conversation.”

From your experience in conversations, why don’t more churches have legacy programs or foundations?

“The main reason is no exposure to a model that is successful.  Some have had an attempt but started at the wrong place, such as a wills seminar, etc.  Having a ministry, not just of securing a legacy gift, but wanting to serve people and facilitate an objective and confidential conversation about their lifetime stewardship is important. This demonstrates a commitment to lifetime stewardship and not just seeking large gifts for the future.”

What advice would you give a church that is thinking of setting up a legacy program or foundation?

“The studies I have seen show that doing this as a church seems most effective when the size of the congregation is over 2,000 and the demographics include people from a range of ages and incomes. That doesn’t mean a pastor or leader can’t be proactive in encouraging planning, but for the program to be a success church wide participation is important. Secondly, choose someone in the church who can implement the solution with the pastor’s direction and blessing. Then have that person begin talking about options with the leader of an established program and find ways to adapt that program. 

It’s important to get the horse before the cart. You need a way to generate income (planned giving program or major gifts program) before you do the work of developing a solution for distribution of the funds which may come in (the foundation). Finally, even with a shaky economy, we are in the midst of the largest generational wealth transfer in all of human history.  That we participate in what God has provided is the key.”


A big thank you to Dr. Don Mann for his willingness to share his experience in the legacy giving arena. I am excited to be a small part of the foundation, and would encourage churches of all sizes to investigate the best way to offer some type of program to its members. As Dr. Mann said, it’s not simply for the church to receive more money. It’s more about serving those in our church and giving them tangible ways to make a lasting difference for the Kingdom. 



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