In This Issue
What is your church worth to your community?
What is an enforceable charitable pledge?
Life Together
What is your church worth to your community? 
      October 2013


An interesting question to pose to those who complain about the loss of money to the government from tax exemptions for churches. 


Mauck & Baker interviewed Dr. Ram A. Cnaan, Professor and Director of the Program for Religion and Social Policy Research at the University of Pennsylvania who has been wondering this for years. Cnaan recently put out his most detailed study on the economical value of a congregation to a community at the beginning of this year.  The study looks at 12 congregations-10 Protestant churches, a Catholic parish, and a Jewish synagogue-to find the value of their local presence. 


Check out Christianity Today's visual of the value of a congregation based on an earlier version of Cnaan's study.  

Cnaan specializes in researching faith-based social welfare and has been involved in several studies as well as a book based on this idea. It's a combination of economics and sociology-what is the value of a wedding to a community's tourism industry or of teaching a teenager civil skills to keep them  out of trouble? Or what about social work of the church such as providing services to the homeless or helping the unemployed find a job?


 "I recalled my economics professor who told us the money is the greatest translator. It creates a language that allows us to compare things that otherwise are hard to compare," explained Cnaan.  He estimates that the rough value for the economic contribution of a typical urban congregation is $476,663.24 per year.


"Congregations should be appreciated for all the public goods that they produce and otherwise will be painfully missed," said Cnaan.  Cnaan hopes to see replications of his study done in other locations with the hope that it will draw more attention to the value of the church. Partners for Sacred Places, a partner in the study, have developed a toolkit for congregations to self-evaluate their own contribution. A free online evaluation will look at the value of the community services a church provides, and for a fee Partners for Sacred Places will provide a more in-depth evaluation of 50 factors to find out a congregation's worth. 


The aim of Cnaan's study is to offer a methodology to enable congregations to self-evaluate their worth. 


"I want appreciation to congregational contributions to be discussed in public media," said Cnaan. "I want clergy to be proud of what they do for their community."


For further information about getting a congregation economic evaluation from Partners for Sacred Places contact Rachel Hildebrandt at 215.567.3234 or at   


What is an enforceable charitable pledge?  
   By Attorneys Whitman H. Brisky and Amy Parish,  October 2013 


In today's economic environment, the fulfillment of charitable pledges is not always guaranteed.  So, what are charitable pledges, and what makes them legally binding and enforceable?


A charitable pledge is a written or oral promise by a donor to make a charitable contribution in the future.  According to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, charities are required to record enforceable pledges as assets when they are made, just like any other debt obligation.  If a pledge is not fulfilled, the charity must write off the unpaid amount of the pledge.


Many charities may not wish to enforce an unpaid pledge, particularly against a live donor.  But if they do, Illinois courts lean toward enforcing charitable pledges because it is in the interest of society to further the work of charitable organizations, which rely on such contributions.  However, a few key things will strengthen a pledge:


  1.  The terms of the agreement should be clear and all conditions specified.  Although a pledge can be oral or in writing, an organization will have a much harder time enforcing an oral pledge than a written pledge. 
  2. There must be an offer in the form of a promise made by the donor to contribute funds to the charitable organization.  The offer may be either unconditional or conditional upon the occurrence of a certain event.
  3. There must be acceptance in which the charitable organization accepts the donor's promise to contribute funds. 
  4. There must also be "consideration" given in exchange for the pledge.  This means, in Illinois, that the charity must agree to do something (or not do something) in exchange for the promised donation.  Some Illinois courts have held that if a charity, on the faith of the pledge, and before its withdrawal, spends money or incurs liabilities, in furtherance of its own charitable enterprise, that is, simply continues to operate, consideration is present and the pledge is valid.

In considering whether to enforce a pledge, the Board should consider the strength of the pledge, the expense of litigation relative to the amount that might be recovered, the effect that a lawsuit might have on other donors, and any other consideration for the release or forbearance.  The business judgment rule would protect the Board if it made a record and had a good faith, reasonable reason for not collecting on a pledge.  Any decision by the Board to enforce, or not enforce, a pledge should be carefully documented with the reasons for its decision.  



 Whitman Brisky is a partner at Mauck & Baker who has over 35 years of experience in estate planning, business, and corporate law. He has represented charitable organizations in seeking recovery of charitable pledges and counseled churches and religious organizations on enforcing charitable pledges. 



 Amy Parrish is an Associate Attorney at Mauck & Baker              
 focusing her practice on estate planning and nonprofit cases. She is currently working on the recovery of a charitable pledge for a charitable organization. 






Watch Mauck & Baker's video to find out more about our firm
Mauck & Baker Video Testimony  
Life Together 
 By Christen Gall, October 2013 


White sandy beaches and aqua-colored ocean water in Clearwater, Fla. made for a ideal setting for the Christian Legal Society's annual conference bringing together legal professionals and law students from across the nation.  Mauck & Baker attorneys were in attendance along with many members of the local Chicago chapter of CLS.  All coming from busy schedules to pause and reflect on the role of the Christian attorney. 


With a focus on Dietrich Bonhoffer's life and his writings on living life in the Christian community, the importance of relationship was an immediate emphasis of the weekend.  Someone, who I can only imagine has come to the CLS conference for years, said the first evening that CLS is about relationships-gaining news ones and going deeper with the ones you already have. 


Relationships came in a variety of ways for all of us from Mauck & Baker. Some reconnected with long lost family, old colleagues, or local CLS members. Some made new connections with eager law students, answering questions late into the night-maybe reliving law school days from years ago.



As the newest employee at Mauck & Baker and recent college graduate my relationships looked a little different.


Re-connecting with a friend from Pepperdine University's law school at the conference made me grateful for the familiar. Grateful for conversations about the intersection of law, politics, and media just like ones we'd had in college.  Grateful that some things stay the same even though life never seems to. 


Connections around the table with the attorneys at Mauck & Baker one evening reminded me that these people I see in the office every day are more than their work.  They have families they love. They have encouragement to give. They need relationships just as much as I need them.


Sally Wagenmaker, our Chicago CLS President, told me that being at CLS with like-minded people is a little piece of heaven. The search for relationship was in fact the beginning of her experience in CLS. Sally initially came to CLS as an oasis from the competitiveness of law school, but also because she was searching for spiritual things. She eventually found a deep relationship with God and through CLS she would eventually meet her husband.  Sally considers the members of the Chicago CLS group to be close friends, advisers, and supporters. 


Life together. It's a reminder that we are dependent on one another in Christian community-whether you're an attorney or not.  


Christen is the newest member of Mauck & Baker, taking on the position of Communications Manager. When she's not tweeting, posting, or updating the website or social media during work she enjoys adding legal terms to her vocabulary.