The Stories You Tell

By Deacon Mitzie Schafer

Over the last year, as the Regional Gift Planner for the ELCA Foundation, serving the Carolinas, Deacon Mitzie Schafer has worked with more than 30 congregations who chose to take intentional steps to improve their ability to receive outright or estate gifts. Deacon Schafer uses a process called the Ministry Funding Plan. In every congregation there is a story that illustrates the need for this ministry.

A congregation in our synod was left $10,000 by a member. The gift was established through his Will, which read, “I leave $10,000 to the church I am a member of at the time of my death.” His children informed the probate court that he was not a member of any congregation. This puts congregations in an uncomfortable position. More importantly, the donor’s wishes were not honored. He became one of the 70% whose estate plan failed to pay out the way it was intended.

The Ministry Funding Plan serves two purposes. First, it serves to set congregations up with all the documents needed to successfully and faithfully receive gifts. Documents like Gift Policies and Endowment By-Laws. It serves to facilitate conversation in the congregation around the “Financial Wants and Needs” so that members have a voice in the process and councils know the priorities of the congregation.

In multiple congregations, pastors have shared with Deacon Schafer, “We received a large gift and it was just parked in an account. We can’t touch it for ministry.” On the opposite spectrum, she has also been told, “We received a large gift and I can’t really tell you what we even spent it on. It was just dwindled away.” Donors want to know their gifts are being used for ministry. They want to know how their gifts will be used, and who will decide. The gift policy answers all those critical questions. Deacon Schafer says, “Every congregation needs a gift policy regardless of how large or small they believe themselves to be.”

The second area of the Ministry Funding Plan includes working with members of our congregations to provide a faith-based discernment process for establishing a comprehensive Estate Plan/Gift Plan that honors the wishes of the donor for how their hard-earned assets are distributed once they pass. “A Will is not enough to prevent them from being part of that 70% of people whose estate plans fail to pay out as they intended,” states Deacon Schafer. The process is painless, and usually takes only two visits to complete. Deacon Schafer walks congregation members through every step of the process including paperwork.

The “stories you tell” Deacon Schafer when she visits with our congregations only confirm the great need for this ministry. Thankfully, this ministry is provided at no charge to the congregation or our members. Her work is completely funded by the ELCA Foundation and our Regional Partners like the SC Synod. She doesn’t work on commission, and she has nothing to sell you. The Ministry Funding Plan does not compete with annual stewardship activities, but rather enhances them. So, there is no reason not to call and schedule your congregation for an initial Congregational Discovery meeting to see how she can help. Contact her at 803-413-7827 or Mitzie.schafer@elca.org. Then the “Stories You Tell” will be stories of abundance and thanksgiving.

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