Are Gifts to Your Congregation Secured?

Janet makes a planned gift to her congregation, and notifies the person on the committee assigned to keep that list. Allison also makes a planned gift to her congregation, and notifies the right person. However, Janet’s gift never “realizes” – that is, the congregation never receives that donation. Allison’s, on the other hand, does “realize” – the congregation receives a check for that gift at the time Allison determined. Why? It could be that Janet’s gift was revocable and she changed her mind at some time after the notification.

Source: Flickr user Jonas Bengtsson

So what does the term “revocable” really mean? Well let’s keep it very simple. At its origin in Latin, revocare means to call back. Revocable means that you can change it, or that it is reversible.  Irrevocable, on the other hand, means that the gift is permanently dedicated; irreversible, final or otherwise completed. Said differently, with a revocable gift “instrument” you can change your mind and simply revoke it, whether it is a Will, a Trust, a Gift, an Intent or even a Pledge. And conversely, with an irrevocable instrument, you cannot change your mind, since you have made a contracted transfer of ownership of the gift, will, trust, etc. The decision is final and irreversible and the gift stands.

This seems pretty basic and simple. Yet the implications for your congregation are consequential and serious.

As an organization, if you are asking for planned gifts, you need to be aware of what makes a gift irrevocable and what types of gift normally fall in this category. These are gifts where your organization is in essence part of the agreement, so you want to do what you can to be informed about its details, and ensure they work for your organization – before the gift is made!

The most common gifts fall in the revocable category. This means that your organization has not secured the gift; it could be changed and disappear rather quickly. So from the time that you are aware of this gift intention, the burden falls upon you to acknowledge and thank, be in personal contact with that congregant, and keep them engaged and informed — for the duration of the time until the gift is realized. That could be decades. Is your congregation prepared and set up to do those tasks, for that long? Are you ready for the Legacy Challenge? If not, let us know – we can help.

Mark EwertMark Ewert is a stewardship consultant with the Stewardship For Us team. Mark works with congregations on their Long Term Stewardship programs and can be reached at, via the UUA’s Congregational Stewardship Resources page, (, or through your regional staff.

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