An Interview with Rick Harrison-Smith

An Interview with Rick Harrison-Smith

Interview and photo by Caitlin Gutenberger, News Editor

At the end of 2011, Rick Harrison-Smith, Executive Director of the Episcopal Foundation of Northern California, retired. After 12 years and countless hours of service to the Foundation (all conducted while also managing his own law practice), Rick was kind enough to grant me some time for a chat about his work and himself – two subjects that, to this interviewer, appear hermetically intertwined. Rick’s work with the Foundation is a true calling, and you will find no greater advocate of its mission. He will be missed here at the Office of the Bishop, and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

How long have you been with the Foundation?

I have been the Executive Director of the Foundation since December 14, 1999. For the first six months I was Interim Executive, and then in June or July I was hired on permanently. Before that, for (I think it was) eight years, I was a board member of the Foundation. When I came onto the board, there were not term limits. So I spent a year or two [there], and then they instituted term limits. So I did my six years, and I was just looking to retiring from this for a while and not making a quarterly trip to Sacramento. (laughing) Then I started making a weekly trip to Sacramento.

I was going to say, how did you go from being Associate Director to the Executive Director?

The Executive Director resigned and the then-Bishop asked me to take it over until we found someone. When I was doing that, I discovered that it seemed something I had a calling to do. So I asked if I could apply, and they said, “Sure.” There were three candidates and then me. And it ended up being me.

You have a job outside of this one - you are an attorney. What kind of law do you practice?

Yes - I do estate planning and special district law.

Do you have your own practice?

I have my own practice. When I started, I was still working 50-60 hours a week, which had been cut back. I had been doing 80-90. Over the course of the 12 years, I have backed off so that I only do 20. So it’s 20 hours on my practice and 20 hours for the Foundation, if I only do what I am supposed to do. (laughing) I am not sure I always got down that low.

Have you always been an Episcopalian?

I am a cradle Episcopalian.

Why do you like the Episcopal Church vs. another Christian denomination?

I find the services satisfying to me. I am of an age when I have to attend a lot of funerals – that’s all kinds of funerals from all kinds of churches. I’m afraid I find many of the funeral services I go to unsatisfying for the task at hand. I find that some other services I go to, primarily weddings – some you go to and you think, “That was a good wedding,” and others you think, “Ehhhh...”  I just find [the Episcopal services] satisfying.

What are some of the projects and things you’ve done while being Executive Director of the Foundation that you are most proud of?

While I was Executive Director, we changed the focus from planned gifts to including the Church in your will. We did that for statistical reasons of the number of gifts that come from wills. But that makes it harder to determine how successful you are. If I do a planned gift, I know I have done the planned gift. If I’ve talked you into remembering the Church in your will, I probably don’t know you have done that, because you do that and you don’t tell folks. The proof in the pudding is, when people die, have they remembered the Church in their will? If we’ve done a good job of that task, there will be increased numbers of those who have remembered the Church – your local church, the diocese, the institution – in the will.

The second thing is setting up endowments for churches to increase their ability to support themselves. The first one I did was at St. Mary’s, Napa. After they got it set up, the committee went off and I knew nothing of what happened until I was having a conversation with Father Haggenjos, and discovered that that endowment that I helped them create – they funded it to an extent that the endowment pays for their assistant priest. What a wonderful ministry.

I wish I could say that every endowment I have worked with a church on has been that successful. Some have and some haven’t, but we’ve probably done 15 of those. I am happy to say that after 11 ½ years, my home church [All Saints’, Redding] has done one, and it wasn’t for lack of pounding on their door! (laughing)

Who provides the money for an endowment for a church?

They have to knock on the doors of their parishioners and get them to fund it through their wills, through gifts, for a purpose that those parishioners want to go on forever – because an endowment by definition is money that you can never spend the principal on. You can only spend the interest. You need to set it up in such a way that the members of the [congregation] are excited by the ministry of the church – they want to see it ongoing and they want to make a contribution to that. It takes intentional visioning and promotion to get one of these to go.

In essence the hard thing about the job, but the rewarding thing too is that you basically have to go out and teach people how to fish – you have to get them excited. You’re not just saying, “Here is this money,” or, “This is where the money is to be found.”

The Episcopal Foundation of Northern California, with one exception, does not grant funds. We do have one fund that we are the trustees of that we are directed to use for elderly people of limited income in the Sacramento area. But that’s the only one. We are not a foundation that makes grants. We assist our churches (most of my work is for the churches in the diocese) and the diocesan institutions and the diocese to become the recipients of planned gifts or wills.

I didn’t realize that when people do remember the Church in their will, that’s not something that they proclaim.

There are people who like people to know what their charitable gifts are and there are people who do not. There was an interesting statistic from last year that 80 percent of adults in the United States say that they contribute to churches for their operating expenses. That’s a significant number. Eight percent of that 80 percent have remembered the Church in their will. There is a great gap that needs to be filled in.

What are you going to do now with your extra time?

That’s an interesting question. It’s a question of discernment. I am endeavouring to discern, but I have not yet found the words. When I find it, we will all know.

Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers in closing?

Have you remembered the Church in your will?

To learn more about the Episcopal Foundation of Northern California, visit

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