You could call it charitable life after death: leaving money in your will to support a favored philanthropic cause.
Or you could call it legacy giving – the term of choice for a program created by the Jewish Federations of North America and implemented locally by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.
The Create a Jewish Legacy program is now halfway through its two-year schedule; it plans to train more than 40 leaders of local Jewish agencies and schools in how to make legacy giving part of their fundraising strategy.
And Laurie Siegel, who coordinates the program for the federation, said “the program is really building momentum in the community.”
“Between the advertising that we’ve done and between people starting to speak with each other, people in the community are really gaining an awareness of legacy giving and we’re thrilled,” she said.
In December, the federation’s Synagogue Leadership Initiative will hold a program to educate synagogue leaders about the benefits of having a legacy program and what steps are involved in developing a strategy for cultivation.
Participants in the ongoing training program are receiving a more in-depth introduction to this corner of philanthropy. In this coming year, they will learn about some of the technical financial aspects of bequests, and they will receive private time with a consultant on their agency’s particular challenges.
The federation already has given them banners promoting the legacy idea.
“When they go to events and parlor meetings, they can bring the banners with them, and all of a sudden they start to have different conversations with people,” Siegel said.
“All of that is starting to lead to gifts that are starting to materialize,” she added – more than $4 million so far.
“We’re teaching them how to build long-term sustainability so they can rely for themselves on all sorts of things they’ve never had the funding they do,” Siegel said.
“It’s an example of providing added value to the Jewish community,” said Miriam Allenson, the federation’s director of marketing services. “Part of what we have set ourselves out to do is be collaborators with the community, to help people do what needs to be done.”
“We are very pleased to be included in the program,” said Melanie Cohen, executive director of the Jewish Home Foundation in Rockleigh. “It’s great the federation is providing its beneficiary agencies with the opportunity to advance themselves.
“The program provides us with educational materials, with tutelage. It also helps to inspire us.”
Bequests have long played an important role for the Jewish Home, according to Cohen. “Over the years, we received both planned and surprise legacy gifts, and they always seem to come at critical times, when the funds could be allocated for something we were in great need of,” she said.
The federation’s program, however, has helped focus the Jewish Home’s efforts, providing deadlines to accomplish certain goals. “It’s helped us to put our head to the grindstone and get the job done.”
That job included preparing a brochure to promote legacy giving, and hiring a staff member “whose significant focus is directed toward legacy gifts.”
A dedicated staff member, Cohen said, is important because “soliciting legacy gifts is a very specific task that requires a lot of contact with donors on a personal level and is not something that just happens. It’s something that develops over time, and sometimes it requires a number of conversations over a period of years. You need to provide someone who has time to devote to that.”
At the Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, Pam Ennis, the director of community relations, is similarly pleased with the training that she and three of her lay leaders have received. “We’re at the beginning stages of launching a legacy campaign,” she said.
Already, she said, being in a legacy mindset enabled the school to modify a proposed gift and turn it into the cornerstone of the school’s nascent endowment.
“In the general charitable world, legacy giving is very common as a way to make sure causes that are near and dear to you exist in the future,” Ennis said. “The Jewish community until recently hasn’t engaged in these kinds of campaigns.”
“Part of what we have to do is to educate our community that this is a beautiful way to show your children that you value Jewish education,” she said.
Siegel said that legacy giving “is not only for the top-notch donors. This is for you and this is for me.
“If you own a home and have an estate, if you have an IRA, you can leave a percentage, and then one day, very far from now, that will come true, and your legacy will be there.
“At this time of year, we want to be inscribed it the Book of Life,” she said. “We would love for people in the community to also be inscribed in the book of the life of the Jewish community.
“Create a Jewish Legacy is a program for anybody who’s out there who really cares and is really passionate about the Jewish community.”