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Program aims to expand ‘legacy’ giving
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Program aims to expand ‘legacy’ giving

The logo for the Life & Legacy program of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Mercer is a pair of hands gently cupping a green sprout.

According to Julie Davidson Meyers, the foundation’s executive director, that image embodies the program’s commitment to growth and faith in the future.

Through the program, which began locally in May 2012, the foundation trains financial development professionals and community fund-raisers in “legacy” giving — estate plans, trust funds, and other future-oriented resources like insurance or retirement plans.

Participants meet once every two months for two years, to hone their skills and strategies in what has become an increasingly important tool in Jewish philanthropy. In addition, the program offers consultation, individual coaching, and marketing help.

“So many of our fund-raising efforts are focused on immediate needs,” Davidson Meyers said. “This allows us also to think about creating a secure base for the future.”

JCFGM, the endowment and investment arm of the local Jewish community, launched the program in collaboration with the Massachusetts-based Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which provided grant money and teaching materials. According to research by Grinspoon, only 10 to 12 percent of Jewish donors designate charitable giving in their wills and estate planning. The program aims to increase those figures.

The most recent session, on July 29, drew between 45 and 50 participants, far more than the required two members from the 11 partner organizations taking part. “The passion and commitment has been unbelievable,” Davidson Meyers said.

The session was held at Congregation Beth Chaim in Princeton Junction. Led by Davidson Meyers and Arlene Schiff, program director of the Life & Legacy Program for the Grinspoon Foundation, the participants explored the various ways wealth is transferred, shaping a legacy plan, identifying potential donors, and setting goals for fund-raisers and donors.

Livia Mezrich, the founder of Rimon: The Mordecai T. Mezrich Center for Jewish Learning in East Windsor, took part together with three members of her board. “I am so grateful to the Grinspoon Foundation and to the Jewish Community Foundation for this chance,” she said. “It’s a great fit too; Rimon is also about Jewish perpetuity. But normally, we’re so steeped in the challenge of raising money for the now, and this gives us the support and credibility to think about legacy gifts, and it’s wonderful working with other people from the community, like being part of a team.”

To Mezrich’s amazement, three donors have already agreed to make legacy gifts.

“I was really worried at first about asking people for this kind of support. This is so encouraging,” she said.

Celia Bavier, JCFGM Life & Legacy coach, pointed out that “the participants also partner with each other, sharing information and ideas, and getting to know each other’s organizations.”

For those involved in the program, the year began with sadness. Gail Littman, the California-based founder of the legacy initiative and keynote speaker at last year’s kickoff event event, died suddenly of a heart ailment in December. Fittingly, perhaps, Littman’s untimely death reminded participants of the need for legacy planning.

“It really underlined the fact that none of us know how long we have, and how important it is to be prepared,” Davidson Meyers said.

The next meeting with be held Tuesday, Oct. 15, at Kehilat HaNahar, The Little Shul by the River, in New Hope, Pa.

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