Resource Library

Legacy Generosity

Resource from Ecumenical Stewardship Center Archives
Resource Library

Legacy Generosity

By Marcia Shetler

This article was originally published in Giving Magazine Vol. 19 in 2017. You can access the full issue here

Deciding how to steward what God has given us at the end of our earthly lives can be difficult to think about and discuss. The legal aspects can be challenging to comprehend. Some choose to avoid what they don’t understand. A May 2016 Gallup poll showed that 56 percent of US households do not have a will. A Google consumer survey conducted in Canada in June 2016 showed that 62 percent of Canadian households do not have a will.

Conventional wisdom says it’s important to prepare to leave a legacy for our biological families. Our faith-based wisdom tells us it’s important to give to others. Some organizations invite those giving a planned gift to think of them like a member of their family, perhaps a child named Charity. For example, if they have three children, they are encouraged to divide their estate four ways; one quarter goes to each child, and one quarter goes to the organization.

Many nonprofit organizations have been very successful with this strategy, but congregations can be reluctant to encourage legacy generosity. Even though faith is a significant indicator of a person’s generosity, congregations rarely receive legacy gifts. While many Canadian and US residents give regularly, less than 10 percent have made plans to do so through their estates.1 Accumulated resources comprise 85 percent of the average church family’s net worth, and one in forty church families is capable of making a onetime gift to the church equal to their congregation’s annual budget.2 It’s kind of ironic, when you think about it: we consider our church family as part of our extended family (and for many of us, our congregations include members of our biological families!). Yet we are reluctant to consider how we might leave a legacy to the ministry that will provide a place for that extended family to grow in faith for generations to come. And unfortunately, many congregations are not prepared to receive the gifts when they come.

There are many examples of how legacy giving can benefit the church; here is one from the United Church of Canada. In the spring of 2010, Arthur Smith donated his most favored stocks to Britannia United Church, creating a sizeable gift to establish a memorial fund in his wife’s memory. The principal was designated for a major capital project, but the congregation can use the income earned by the fund toward current expenses.

While we may be uncomfortable broaching this subject as individuals or families, the good news is that there are many in our church families who are knowledgeable about legacy generosity. Those from faith-based organizations who help people and churches with planned giving see it as their ministry. Perhaps it’s time to schedule some biological- and extended-family meetings to become more familiar with the opportunities we have to be generous through gift planning.

Arthur Smith shared his story in the hopes that it will inspire at least one family to leave a legacy gift. Is that you? Is that your family? What will you do with the gifts that God has given you? Will your church family benefit from your legacy?

2 Generous People by Eugene Grimm, Money Is Everything by Herb Miller

Marcia Shetler is the former Executive Director/CEO of the Ecumenital Stewardship Center. Before that, she served as administrative staff in two middle judicatories of the Church of the Brethren.

Giving Magazine was a premier stewardship resource published by the Ecumenical Stewardship Center (ESC) from 1999 until 2020. The magazine served Christian faith communities throughout North America, providing thoughtful, practical, and inspirational content on faith and giving from thought leaders and practitioners alike. Giving was published annually from 1999 until 2018 (volumes 1-20), and then quarterly in 2019 and 2020 (volumes 21-28) in digital form only. In 2021 ESC closed its doors and committed its archives to the care of Lake Institute on Faith & Giving. For further information on ESC or its archives, please contact us at

DATE: January 31, 2017
TOPIC: Fundraising Practice
TYPE: Article
SOURCE: Ecumenical Stewardship Center Archives
KEYWORDS: Generosity, Legacy
AUTHOR: Marcia Shetler