The Joyful Expectation of Legacy Giving
When it comes to developing a culture of giving in your school, Zach Clark would say that “there are many things you are doing, and many things you could do, but are you focusing on the most impactful things you must do?” Unfortunately the thing that may have the most profound effect on your school’s long term sustainability is the one that most often gets put on the back burner: the establishment of a legacy giving program. Schools need a plan that brings your givers and your school’s story together in a shared purpose. It is time to make decisions in the present that will shape the future of your school.
Have you ever given a gift and wondered what about its impact?
There is a powerful story here, one of expectancy and expectation, of faith and hope. And love.
It’s Christmas and an old man gently plays a few notes on a piano as he reflects back on his life. He is a legend now—he is Elton John after all —and at first the video seems to be yet another celebration of his life and music. But as you approach the end (which is really the beginning) you realize the video is not about the piano player.
It is about a legacy gift and a legacy giver. It is about the gift-wrapped piano that transformed that little boy dressed in pyjamas on Christmas morning into the legendary entertainer. It is about the mother whose gift of a piano inspired a legend. Some gifts really are more than just gifts.
The piano was not given because of a present need. It was given because of future hope— of a mother for her son. In the same way legacy giving is not about a school’s present need. It is about a future hope for the school and for the world. Legacy givers are giving out of faith, planting a seed rooted in yearning and in joyful expectation for the future. Do you see the yearning in the mother’s eyes? The young boy didn’t understand the hope. It was hers. Such is true with legacy giving as well. Those who will benefit in the future from a legacy gift may not realize its source, but the giver lives in expectation of its significance. He or she is investing in someone or something he or she believes in, cracking the door open to the possibility of this future hope realized.
As image bearers of Christ we all have capacity for such hope-filled and meaningful action. But such “action does not just come from nowhere…it takes place in the midst of a story that matters.” It requires encouragement.
It thrives on inspiration. “Action is generated more by visions than maxims, more by a telos than a rule. This intuition is captured in a saying attributed to Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince. If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
The piano player video is just an ad by a British department store to encourage Christmas giving (and buying of course!). But it became more than just an ad, it became more powerful than its marketing purpose, because it set out to tell a story. Ad makers know that story has moved mankind for thousands of years. At the dawn of civilization, story was the most powerful communication tool, enabling survival and growth. Story has preserved history, entertained and motivated people to take meaningful action.
My questions to you are: Are you telling your story in such a way that it will encourage legacy giving? Are you finding ways to communicate your mission in such a way that it will encourage your community to invest in the long-term future of your school?
It does not have to be novel-length communication. “The imaginative expanse of a story does not depend on the quantity of words. Rather, there can be a feel among the words, resonances, and assonances that carry an aesthetic power disproportionate to their length. Short stories and poetry are often examples of such compressed narrative power, (inviting) us into— a whole world.” Consider this short sentence: “The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2 NIV)
We may not have the piano player’s story to tell but we do have the story of the greatest Gift as our guiding light! “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV) We are witnesses to what He has done.
Start there, with that great overarching narrative.
But also tell your particular story. Your school has a story— a past story, a present story and a future story— that matters. You are witnesses to how lives are being changed through the living out of your school’s mission.
What is your narrative?
How can you use it to invite givers into a space where they are known as authentic partners and as valued characters within your particular story and within the grand story of redemption and restoration of all of creation? When someone makes a legacy gift to your school it reflects a desire to see you fulfilling an expectation to faithfully live out the mission and vision of your school…and people and organizations rise to the expectations set before them. You need to deliberately and carefully create a longing for that envisioned future- for the endless immensity of the sea.
A legacy gift to your school is the most precious of gifts because it speaks to an eternal hope for abundance, an expectation of the transformational flourishing of future generations of children and a vision that the world will be positively changed through the education of these future Christian leaders. The greatest gift you can give people is the opportunity to become part of such a story, just as the piano player’s mother became part of his story.
Some gifts are more than just gifts. Did you notice that the piano the old man closes at the end of the video is the same one he unwrapped on Christmas so many years before? The gift has not stopped giving. Now it has come full circle and he is giving back: “My gift is my song…and this one’s for you”.
It is time to encourage these kinds of gifts. It is time to put legacy giving on the front burner — if you haven’t yet established a legacy giving program at your school there is no better time to start than the present.
Cathy Kits (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SCSBC Director of Development
1 Zach Clark, Positive Planned Giving
2 John Lewis & Partners Christmas Ad 2018 (viewable in link)
3 Andy Crouch, Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk and True Flourishing
4, 5 James K. A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works