In the 1940s and 1950s my uncle was a missionary to Japan. The neighbouring country, China, had a rich tradition of many Protestant missionaries living and working there since the 1800s. The missionaries in both of these countries were often couples with children receiving subsistence wages.

In my role as a fundraiser, I learned of one donor in a Canadian church who had included a bequest in her will that directed a large sum of money to be set aside in a trust to assist the children of missionaries in China to attend university when they came of age. She was a wonderful well-intentioned lady who lived a long and glorious life. In fact she lived beyond the 1950s—when the missionaries were expelled from China—and into the late 1980s, well past when any child of a former missionary was thinking of attending university.

After the will was read, the church argued the money needed to be used for a similar purpose educating the poor in Canada. The lawyers for the trust argued that there were no missionaries serving in China and no children of university age so the money should remain unspent. After the arguing was done and the lawyers were paid, there was no money.

Times can change. Do you help your donors understand the need for a sunset clause in each bequest that says the gift can be reallocated to a similar need if the need mentioned no longer exists?


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