Planning for a legacy

Planning for a legacy

Jewish federation project hopes to create 'culture of endowment'

Have you thought about how your values will live on after you have died?

That’s a question many people are asked by their attorneys and financial advisers when they draw up their wills.

Now, area Jewish institutions are being encouraged to add that question to their phrasebook when they talk to supporters, thanks to a new program from the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

The goal is to challenge supporters of those institutions – including the federation itself – to “Create a Jewish Legacy,” in the words of the program’s title.

Last Thursday night, the Create a Jewish Legacy program kicked off a two-year training program for 60 professional and lay leaders of local Jewish social service agencies and day schools.

“We feel we will be able to create a culture of endowment giving that permeates the community,” said Paula Shaiman, who chairs the program for the federation, and who recently served as president of the Jewish Family Service of North Jersey.

The program itself is an example of what Shaiman calls “the power of bequests and endowments.” It is partially funded by a grant from the federation’s endowment fund, as well as grants from the Russell Berrie Foundation and the Jewish Federations of North America. JFNA is promoting the program, which originated in San Diego in 2002, in Jewish communities across the continent.

“Bequests and endowments are going after a different time horizon,” than regular fundraising, explained Sam Moed, chair of Jewish Education for Generations, a consortium of eight area Jewish day schools. “We have to do this now so 10 years from now we don’t say we wish we had done this 10 years ago. We recognize the fruits of this effort will not be immediate but the impact will be enduring.”

Sixty people were at the meeting. Twelve of them were from JEFG, because most of the consortium’s schools sent one or two representatives.

“The federation and the schools are working together in the interest of catalyzing much more significant endowments for Jewish education,” he said, noting that endowments and bequests “are a major tool that other private educational institutions have in place. By and large our schools do not have endowments and our community needs to change that.”

Shaiman said that on Thursday night the group heard that the average bequest to a nonprofit is $65,000 – and that money comes from a donor who was donating an average of $110 per year.

“It speaks to the fact that people are worried about being able to make it day to day, but once they’re gone they want to make sure their values are carried on,” she said.

The speaker, Bryan Clontz, a planned giving consultant, asked how many people in the room knew the names of two of their great grandparents. Fewer than half raised their hands. Then he asked how many knew the names of three.

“Within two generations your family will not necessarily know your name, but they’ll know what you stood for and they’ll know what values you had if you’re making bequests and endowments,” Shaiman said. “My kids see me day to day, the work I do, the money I give and so on, but generations from now, they may not even know my name. If I’ve made endowments and bequests and the organizations I supported continue on and continue doing the work I felt was valuable, then I’ve done my job.”

If the first time you think about leaving a bequest is when your attorney asks you where would you like to leave something, “maybe you spend 10 or 30 seconds thinking,” she said.

“To the extent we’re having these conversations with people who are involved with our agencies and have seen the really important work we do, it makes it the top of their mind when they have the conversation about planning their estates. Just asking is a big start. This is not something that’s difficult to do.

“People feel that this is a difficult conversation. It’s different than asking for a $5,000 gift tomorrow. It’s really about getting their mind set about how do you want to pass on your values as you leave this earth. It’s your final opportunity to say what you value in life,” she said.

The most important thing for organizations is “to let your donors know you’re in the bequest business. You want to be in this business of endowments and bequests because you want this work to continue,” she said.

Shaiman said that convening the group, which will meet several times over the next two years, is an example of the federation helping other Jewish communal organizations “learn to fish for themselves.”

Who’s on board?
Representatives from these groups – including lay leaders, executive directors, and development directors – are taking part in the two-year Create a Jewish Legacy progam:

The Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities

Jewish Education for Generations

The Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson

The Jewish Family Service of North Jersey

The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey

The Jewish Home Foundation of North Jersey

Kaplen JCC on the Palisades

Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls

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