The Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Mercer has launched a campaign among area synagogues, Jewish agencies, and institutions to encourage supporters to create a lasting legacy for future generations.
“This program has been so successful across the country, and this is absolutely the right time to do it because the transfer of wealth taking place is unprecedented” as baby boomers age, said foundation executive director Julie Davidson Meyers.
“We are spreading the word and inviting Jewish agencies to participate,” she said.
The Create a Jewish Legacy campaign, patterned after other successful efforts instituted by Jewish federations and foundations nationally, was officially unveiled on May 9 at the Princeton home of Scott and Jeri Schaefer before 60 people.
Scott Schaefer, also legacy campaign cochair and foundation vice president, said the foundation’s main focus is “life and legacy — and not death and taxes.”
The foundation’s purpose, according to the organization’s literature, for almost 50 years has been to provide a sustainable legacy for the Jewish community both locally and internationally through endowments and resources maximizing the charitable objectives of donors.
The new campaign dovetails with that goal by allowing donors to connect to a beloved institution both in their lifetimes and through bequests, thus freeing that institution from relying solely on endless fund-raising efforts. Schaefer said legacy campaigns are now operating in about 50 communities nationwide.
Addressing the gathering was Gail Littman, founder of the national legacy initiative and vice president for endowment and communication of the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego.
“This is a program everyone can participate in,” said Littman. “Everyone can participate in leaving something after their lifetime.”
Leaving a bequest or establishing an endowment within the Jewish community — whether it be a synagogue, Jewish family service, or Jewish community center — is not done enough because “it’s a question we haven’t asked as a Jewish community,” said Littman.
In creating the legacy, agencies and institutions form a partnership with the foundation. Littman said the task of relationship-building will fall on the agencies, with the assistance of the foundation.
“You take care of the passion,” she said. “We’ll take care of the technical knowledge and help individuals understand how to design a fund reflecting their values.”
Studies have shown, Littman said, that individuals between the ages of 40 and 60 who have named a charity in their will also give twice as much to that charity each year.
“They feel personally connected to that charity,” said Littman. “They think, ‘That charity is next to my daughter’s name. If my organization is struggling, well, they’re part of the family, so I’m thinking I want to give them a little more.’”
Eight years after San Diego formed its legacy initiative, it boasts 20 partnering Jewish organizations, close to 900 participating families, and about $211 million committed to various types of legacy plans with specific goals. Of that amount, $31 million has already come in, mostly through bequests, said Littman.
San Diego’s Jewish community foundation offers training sessions, consulting, coaching, and community-wide marketing; the Mercer foundation plans to do the same.
Littman said the initiative has “changed the culture of giving” in San Diego with people of all ages and socioeconomic levels joining in and uniting as a community around the cause.
She said the idea of creating a family endowment can make great family conversation around a dinner table as members pinpoint what is important to them.
Martin Schwartz, a board member of the Mercer foundation and Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, spoke about how his own family came to establish the Judith and Martin Schwartz Family Charitable Trust. Through the fund, each of his three children and their families currently get $1,000 to $1,500 each year at Hanukka on a rotating basis to donate to a charity or charities of their choice.
Over the last few years it has sparked family discussions about the mitzva of giving tzedaka to a variety of charities, including those supporting animal welfare, the hungry, and Jewish causes.
Schwartz said over the course of almost 50 years he had not missed making an annual donation to federation and had made provisions in his will for his children and grandchildren to use the fund to continue in that charitable tradition.
“We’ve established an intergenerational tradition that binds our family together,” he said.