Charity for the long term

Charity for the long term

Talking with the director of the Jewish Federation’s endowment foundation

From one of online videos created by the Endowment Fund.
From one of online videos created by the Endowment Fund.

Robin Rochlin takes the long view.

She runs the endowment foundation of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

“It’s the planned giving arm of the Jewish Federation,” she said. “Our mission is to work with our existing federation donors and the broader Jewish community to think about their longterm philanthropy.”

If you answered the Super Sunday call to support the federation’s annual campaign — you did answer the call, didn’t you? — that’s short term philanthropy. Ms. Rochlin wants to have the conversations with you about making the gift permanent.

It’s called PACE — perpetual annual campaign endowment. “The rule of thumb is that 20 times your annual gift would perpetuate that gift based on a five percent distribution. If somebody is making a $1500 gift to federation on annual basis, they can perpetuate it with a $30,000 endowment,” she said.

You can make that gift tomorrow, with cash or appreciated securities. (There’s no capital gain tax on securities donated to charity.) Or you can wait until after your death, leaving a bequest in your will for the gift, or naming the charity as the beneficiary of an IRA or life insurance policy.

“There are many ways to fulfill the gift,” she said. “The idea is that you lend sustainability to the charity or the program that is near or dear to you.”

In addition to the PACE gifts, and the Lion of Judah endowment, where a woman perpetuates her $5,000 annual gift to federation through a $100,000 endowment, Ms. Rochlin also has “opportunities for people to perpetuate and support specific programs or organizations they value” by designating their endowment for a particular funding area.

“It can be a field of interest, to support the elderly or Jewish education. Or it can be much more specific to fund a particular program. We have designated funds that are used to support Israel experiences or Jewish camping, March of the Living, or Jewish education broadly.

“Are there specific things that are important to you that you want to make sure are funded? The broadest gift would be for the annual campaign, which would give federation the broadest flexibility. If you’re interested in helping a particular demographic, say you’re interested in helping the elderly, the broader the terms, the better the fund can be adaptive over time. Today’s needs for the elderly may look different than 20 or 30 years in the future,” she said.

Robin Rochlin (Perry Bindelglass)
Robin Rochlin (Perry Bindelglass)

This year, the federation used a fund set up to provide for the elderly to help launch the Independent Transportation Network of North Jersey.

The federation recognizes donors who commit to giving at least $100,000 with membership in its Dor L’Dor society. “Those are typically for unrestricted or annual campaign endowments,” Ms. Rochlin said.

All told, the federation has 145 pledges and gifts in this range, totaling over $40 million.

“We also have a book of life. Any donor who leaves an unrestricted gift of $5,000 can have a page in our book of life. It’s an opportunity for a donor to have their story, a photo, a brief comment about who they were and why they had a commitment to Federation in their will. Some people use it to talk about the values they learned from their parents, some people use it to focus on the future of our community.”

That’s when the donor makes their plans for the gift known before their death. Some donations the federation only learns about after the will is read. In those cases, “we’ll help a family member write a page in memory of the person who has made the commitment,” she said.

Recently, the endowment foundation has expanded its work on sharing stories of people’s Jewish values with a new initiative, “The Conversation Project.”

“We interviewed a number of people in our community and made a number of videos about what connects people to Judaism and their community. We started in August and hired a professional videographer, interviewed nearly a dozen people in our community of different ages, from different towns, and engaged them in conversations about Jewish values. We have since produced four videos that talk about the things that surfaced: The importance of community, of giving back, what a legacy means, how we think about where we are in the chain of Jewish tradition, and what it means to lean on our community and be part of the global community.

“In January we hosted three speakers. We served lunch, showed the video, and opened up a dialogue about Jewish values,” she said.

“The important things that surfaced in all of these sessions was how do we want to be remembered, and how does that thought inform the life that we lead? If we are conscious that we want to lead a life of meaning, hopefully that allows us to experience our tradition and our community and our lives in more focused and meaningfully fulfilled ways.

“That’s part of the work of the endowment foundation, to consider what our legacies are and how they’re connected to the past and how we want them to be a bridge to the future,” she said.

There’s another aspect of the endowment foundation and Ms. Rochlin’s work that has a more immediate aspect. That is the area of setting up donor-advised funds. Donors give money to the endowment fund, and then advise the fund which charities to support.

“It’s something that’s become very popular in today’s world. It’s a way of streamlining your charitable giving.

“You would contribute a sum of money or appreciated securities to a donor advised fund. It’s an unrevokable, completed gift to federation for charitable purposes. You get your tax receipt outright. But the IRS allows you to request how money from that fund will be contributed over time,” she said.

There’s a $5,000 minimum contribution to start the fund, and the grants the funds disburses must be at least $100. There’s no maximum number of grants that can be made a year.

“Distributions go out on the letterhead of Federation, so it shows the impact of federation in the greater world. It has a non-quantifiable impact.”

It’s also a way to engage your family in philanthropy, she said.

“Sometimes people will include their kids in decisions of how the dollars will be allocated. You can name your children as successor advisers so kids can continue your philanthropy.

“We have a few funds that were set up in a will as donor advised funds to empower children to engage in philanthropy. If the donor wants to encourage his or her kids to give to Jewish causes, that can be set up as a parameter of the fund.

“All the assets in our endowments are invested in a diverse portfolio. Each fundholder shares on a prorated basis on the earnings of the portfolio,” she said.

The federation has about 100 donor advised funds now.

“One of the benefits of working with the federation is we have a planning and allocations department to find out what are the unmet needs. We have an opportunity to share that information with our donors and highlight certain items they might consider giving to. Because we have a global network, we have the knowledge and resources of people on the ground in Israel and around the world that can help us with opportunities for giving.

“The main message is really that the federation endowment is here to help people realize their philanthropic goals, specifically over the longer term, to have a lasting impact in the community. We can work flexibly with them to make sure that the causes that are important to them carry forward into the future.”

For more information about the federation endowment, email Robin Rochlin at or call her at (201) 820-3970.

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