Catholic foundation counts on gift planning

By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — After dropping 15.6 percent to $15.1 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009, the period that included the collapse of the economy, assets at The Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charlotte grew by nearly $1.8 million and $4.7 million, respectively, the next two years.

In each of those three years, including the year the markets plunged, bequest gifts to the foundation totaled $1.3 million.

Those gifts reflect a strategy the foundation actively has pursued since its founding in 1994 to encourage donors to make planned gifts, or those that are deferred such as bequests, trusts or charitable gift annuities, says Judy Smith, director of planned giving for the foundation.

“If you’re consistent, you will build a pipeline of bequest gifts, and that’s certainly been made obvious during the recession,” she says. “Annual funds may have suffered, but if you had a mature planned-giving program, you would continue to receive bequest gifts.”

The foundation’s gift-planning strategy recently yielded its 200th endowment gift, bringing its total assets to over $20 million for the first time.

Formed to provide financial security for the diocese, which serves 92 parishes and missions, 19 Catholic schools and 20 diocesan agencies in 46 counties in western North Carolina, the foundation raises endowment funds that generate income.

That endowment income helps pay for parish maintenance, seminarian education, faith-formation programs, tuition assistance, food pantries and outreach programs.

The foundation also distributes grants that focus on the poor, minority communities and evangelical initiatives.

In the most recent fiscal year, it awarded a total of $41,000 in grants to 19 churches, schools and agencies.

And in the first nine months of the fiscal year that ends June 30, it received $147,627 that created seven new funds, including two bequest gifts totaling $79,914.

Endowment gifts can take a variety of forms.

A member of the diocese and his wife, for example, made provisions in their wills to leave bequests to an endowment they agreed to create at the foundation, Smith says.

But after she died, he decided to give $100,000 to the endowment while he still was alive in addition to the bequest gift in his will.

Endowment funds also can grow through gifts from donors other than those who created the endowments.

Father Ed Sheridan, a retired priest who lives in Hickory, established an endowment with a gift of $52,714 to provide tuition assistance for students at Asheville Catholic School.

Sheridan had served parishes in Asheville, Brevard, Charlotte, Hickory and Winston-Salem, and was superintendent of schools for the diocese in 1972.

After a story about his gift appeared in the Catholic News Herald, the diocesan newspaper, the endowment received another $7,000 from other donors.

In addition to talking with individual donors about their gift planning, Smith works with parishes, schools and other agencies in the diocese to help them establish new endowment funds or grow existing funds, and to help make their parishioners aware of those funds.

Those groups, as well as any nonprofit, can begin a planned-giving program by identifying donors who have given to their annual fund consistently for six to eight years, letting them know about gift planning, and promoting planned giving on the organization’s website and in its newsletter and other publications, Smith says.

It also is important to recognize donors who have made planned gifts. Through its Catholic Heritage Society, for example, the foundation has recognized nearly 900 donors who have agreed to make a planned gift to the diocese.

And patience is critical.

“Don’t start and stop,” Smith says. “Make a commitment to it.”