In just three years, Create a Jewish Legacy (CJL) has helped 19 participating agencies in Western Massachusetts secure more than 630 bequest commitments, representing future funds estimated at $15 million.
The brainchild of a San Diego foundation, the program model was adopted in Western Massachusetts as a collaboration between the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Western Massachusetts and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Commitments to leave bequests have come from nearly 450 households, many of whom have named multiple organizations as beneficiaries. Those donors will be celebrated and honored on September 21 at the Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts.
Through Create a Jewish Legacy, nonprofit leaders in the Jewish community, both professionals and volunteers, learn how to hold conversations with donors about what could be a sensitive topic—leaving the organizations an after-lifetime gift.
“Once asked, many people actually find the idea very appealing, although they might not think of it on their own. We emphasize that regardless of amount, it’s a wonderful way for individuals and families to make a statement about what is important to them during their lifetime and be remembered in perpetuity for their commitment,” said Sue Kline, who manages the Grinspoon Foundation’s partnership role in the program. “What makes the gift particularly attractive is the fact that it has no financial impact during the donor’s lifetime.”
When Create a Jewish Legacy was launched in 2008, synagogues, day schools, the Jewish Community Center and other organizations stepped up to the challenge. Each formed a leadership team to receive training about legacy giving, create a plan to educate their constituents, and hold conversations with prospective donors. Upon successful completion of annual program goals, participants received a generous incentive award from the Jewish Endowment and Grinspoon Foundations.
“Even more important,” observed David Sharken, Create a Jewish Legacy team leader for the Jewish Community of Amherst, “the legacy initiative has enabled us to strengthen ties with our most loyal donors and sparked our congregational imagination to think of the future.”
The numbers of commitments made through Create a Jewish Legacy has skyrocketed – from 173 in 2009 to 366 in 2010 to a total of 639 to date in 2011. “With the kind of success we were experiencing, other organizations also wanted the opportunity to participate in Create a Jewish Legacy,” explained Scott Kaplan, director of the Jewish Endowment Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts. “Responding to their interest, in 2010 we added six agencies who are now in their second year of the 3-year program.”
There are challenges to address. Despite the growing familiarity with bequest giving, misconceptions exist. Said Kline, “We have to work very hard to help people understand that you don’t have to consider yourself rich to leave a bequest; nor do you have to be old. People of every age and income level can be thinking of how they want to continue making a difference after their lifetime.” There’s also the matter of taking steps with an attorney to formalize a bequest. While potential donors are asked only to sign a letter of intention to make a bequest, it is most important that they take the step of seeing an attorney to ensure that the bequest becomes a formal part of their estate plan.
The legacy giving initiative is being replicated in a number of Jewish communities in the United States and Canada. Western Massachusetts has joined San Diego, Tucson, Kansas City and West Hartford to spearhead a national initiative to educate and inspire others to establish their own bequest programs and thereby help ensure the vibrancy of nonprofit organizations long into the future. In May 2011, a National Jewish Legacy Forum in Kansas City drew more than a hundred participants from 35 communities. Another Forum is in the planning stages for Fall 2012.