Seeds for Discernment

David Cooke, Advance Commitment Chair for the Living Waters campaign, recently wrote a letter offering some ways to think about discerning a gift to the campaign.  His letter has been lightly adapted here to be a stand-alone document. 

People ask for guidance on making a commitment to the Living Waters Campaign.  Prayerful consideration and a thoughtful sacrifice should be the ultimate source of determining your commitment.  Many people have asked for more concrete guidance.  “What’s the number?” becomes a frequent question, for which Living Waters has no answer.  The answer will be different for each household, but there are some broad considerations that every one of us should have in mind when thinking about this campaign.

Capital giving is different.

Our annual stewardship giving pays the clergy and staff and keep the lights on, literally and figuratively, for a year.  Capital giving, by contrast, is forward-looking, ensuring the future viability and usefulness of our physical facilities, thereby enabling current and future All Soulsians to live into our shared values and pursue new avenues in fulfillment of our mission.

By definition, capital campaigns must have significantly more ambitious financial goals than annual stewardship campaigns.  While lump-sum gifts to the campaign are welcome, the period for fulfillment of commitments to the Living Waters campaign will be three years.  This should make it much easier for most if not all parish families to make an especially significant contribution by spreading out the financial burden over time.

In the Living Waters campaign, our goal is to raise at least $2 million.  It’s ambitious, yes, but it is achievable – but only if two things happen:

  • There is broad – ideally universal – participation by everyone in the parish; and
  • Families who are in a position to make six-figure or high five-figure gifts step up and do so.

Capital campaigns are rare. 

There have been only three major capital campaigns at All Souls since it first came to the corner of Cedar and Spruce in 1905.  The first two – in 1924 and 1954 — were and probably always will be the biggest campaigns of all, as they gave us, respectively, the parish hall and church building we can so easily take for granted every Sunday when we gather for worship and coffee afterwards.  The third was in 1999 when we raised the money necessary to modernize the nave, add the foyer restroom, and make other improvements.  If our current campaign is successful, another 25 years may pass before the next one.

A once-in-a-generation opportunity calls for once-in-a-generation (or once-in-a-lifetime) giving. 

In 1954, in the runup to the construction of our church building, the leadership of All Souls called on parishioners to make the largest charitable gift they would make in their lifetimes.  They asked parishioners to be able to say “yes” to three questions about their capital pledge:

  • Was it determined after prayer for God’s guidance?
  • Did it bring them an inner conviction of satisfaction?
  • Could they talk to others about it without apology?

These are still good questions to ask, because, for Living Waters to be successful, many if not most of us will also need to make the largest charitable gift we will make in our lifetimes.

The critical test lies in the second question.  Another way of phrasing it is, does my gift bring me joy?  Think about the joy you feel – that we all feel – when we stretch to make a truly meaningful and important gift to a loved one.  For those of us who love All Souls as our church home, that’s what we’re trying to achieve here.  Another way to think about it: if you have a number in mind that feels pretty generous and you’re persuading yourself that, at that level, you’ll have “done enough” – but a still, small voice deep inside is telling you that, if you open your heart, you can do more – then you probably haven’t found the right number yet, and it’s time to heed that voice.

There is no need to reveal your commitment to the Living Waters campaign publicly, of course, and All Souls will hold your gift in confidence.  But the third question suggests another way to put a tentative commitment amount to the test. Imagine that you’re in a conversation with a friend from All Souls about your giving.  Would you feel sheepish or apologetic about your commitment?  That may tell you whether you’ve chosen the pledge amount that is right for you.

Only with significant lead gifts will we meet our goal.

All Souls, like most churches and non-profits, relies on relatively few donors to meet the biggest part of its financial needs.  For example, the highest 20% of pledges to the most recent annual stewardship drive – pledges between $6,000 and $29,000 – accounted for 56% of the total amount pledged. As with annual stewardship, the success of the Living Waters campaign will depend on a relatively small number of donors who can make significant lead gifts.

Our campaign brochure provides an example of gift distributions that would meet the $2 million goal.  It includes gifts from $3,000 to $200,000 and above, with many significant five-figure gifts. The gift levels shown in the brochure, of course, are merely illustrative of the order of magnitude of gifts needed to meet the campaign goal, and you should not feel boxed in by any of these specific gift levels.  We do believe, however, that as a community we can achieve our goal.  We don’t know exactly who can make lead gifts, but those who can make a lead gift know who you are – or, with prayerful reflection, you will figure it out – and we are counting on you.

In the end, of course, every gift to the Living Waters campaign counts, and every gift is welcome.  Regardless of the total amount given in this campaign, if every member of All Souls participates at a level that truly brings them the joy of giving generously, the campaign will be a smashing success – and the strength and vibrancy of our parish will have found its apex.

Did we mention that you have three years to fulfill your commitment?

Giving over three years requires a little forward-thinking, but it also opens up possibilities for generosity that may seem impossible if the focus were solely on the current year.  If you need three years to fulfill your gift, it is probably a generous gift.

You can donate from current income, or with gifts of assets, or both.   

A household’s consideration of a Living Waters gift can start with anticipating total income over the next three years, as well as assets such as stocks, mutual funds, IRAs, and real estate.  Often people give to capital campaigns from their assets and to annual stewardship funds from their income stream.  A mix of income and asset sources may be a good fit for you.

Consider the tax benefits. 

Donations to All Souls, including capital donations, are deductible to the extent allowed by law.  If you have questions about this, you should consult a tax advisor.  Also, it may be possible to avoid capital gains taxes on donations of assets, such as shares of stock or mutual funds. As a result, it is not uncommon for larger capital gifts, including lead gifts, to be made by a donation of such assets.  Giving in this way can be part of an effective overall tax strategy.

Thinking about your gift in context.

Some people have asked if their Living Waters gift should be proportional to their stewardship pledge.  If that connection resonates with you, your current stewardship pledge may provide a benchmark to start your thinking about a Living Waters gift.

Our campaign goal of $2 million is roughly three times our current annual stewardship giving. If every household were to match its stewardship pledge for 2022 as a gift to Living Waters over each of the next three years, we would meet our goal.  But not everyone is in a position to do that. If the campaign is to succeed, households that have the capacity and the inspiration to do so will have to carry a larger responsibility.  For those who see annual stewardship as a benchmark for capital giving, a 3-year capital commitment based on a multiplier of, say, 5 to 7 or more of their annual stewardship contribution could help a lot.  But the ultimate benchmark for formulating a gift is the joy it brings you in knowing you have stretched to give generously.

Placing All Souls in context. 

Another way to increase your capacity to contribute to Living Waters is to consider prayerfully where All Souls fits in your financial or lifestyle priorities.  Postponing the purchase of an automobile or remodeling of a home are examples of ways to “find money” for a generous gift.

For many parishioners, All Souls is not their only charitable cause.  We ask only that you consider that All Souls is our church, our spiritual home.  If that matters to you, then please think about allocating your charitable giving over the next three years accordingly.

What if I don’t like one of the projects described in the brochure? 

Please set that aside when deciding on your commitment.  None of the projects has been selected for construction.  After the campaign totals have been tallied, the proposed projects will be vetted further and prioritized in a process that will invite input from the entire parish community, and final decisions will be made by the vestry, our elected leaders.  A gift to the Living Waters campaign is an investment in the future of All Souls, not in a particular project.

In conclusion.  Our forebears “paid it forward” in 1924 and again in 1954 when they gave us the wonderful spaces we call our church home.  Only we, as a congregation, can maintain and improve them for our generation and generations to come.  There isn’t anyone else; it’s just us.  Let us follow their example as we enter the second century of All Souls