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Program highlights role of endowments
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Program highlights role of endowments

With a massive transfer of wealth under way in the Jewish community, from one generation to another, the question of future funding of synagogues and agencies has become a matter of urgent concern.

To address that, the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Mercer is launching Create a Jewish Legacy, a collaborative program designed to encourage people to establish endowments to continue their support for their chosen causes beyond their lifetimes.

The program will be launched at an informational dessert and coffee reception hosted by the foundation on Wednesday evening, May 9. Those interested in attending can call foundation executive director Julie Davidson Meyers for further information.

The keynote speaker will be Gail Littman, the California community professional who helped establish the Create a Jewish Legacy program in San Diego. In an interview with NJ Jewish News on March 21, she said she did so out of frustration with the way local Jewish organizations were dealing with their funding efforts. “They were being reactive rather than proactive,” she said.

Seven years on, the program she helped establish has drawn in $31 million in cash endowments for her local participating agencies and synagogues, with the prospect of another $210 million expected in future gifts. The model has inspired over 50 similar programs around the country, bringing in many hundreds of millions of dollars for the participants.

‘Ongoing tradition’

Littman, director of endowments and communications at the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego and a vice-chair of the Union for Reform Judaism, said that the transfer of wealth makes it crucial that Jewish organizations be “at the table,” together with other institutions seeking a slice of that benevolence, like universities and hospitals.

“If we don’t ask for that money to support Jewish causes, it will pass us by,” she said.

The Legacy program highlights the role of endowments as a way for community organizations to build — as leaders of the Greater Mercer foundation have put it — “a cushion of reserve funds.” Rather than relying on short-term fund-raising and emergency-oriented responses, endowments can provide both long-term security and available funding for new ideas.

Meyers said the program could “revitalize the overall fund-raising culture” of the participating organizations. It holds out the prospect, she said, of strengthening them “for years to come” by starting new endowments or strengthening those they have.

The initiative will provide formal and informal training, consulting, and coaching for those involved. The foundation will also conduct outreach and marketing to promote the endowment concept as a form of collective investment in the future the Jewish community.

Florence Kahn, president of the Greater Mercer foundation, said, “We are donor-centric, and we work to initiate conversations with donors about the legacies they want to leave. Our partnership with agencies and synagogues is a model for legacy-giving to strengthen the Jewish community through endowments.”

She went on to say, “Our community has a rich history of charitable giving, and the time is right to pull together and build our Jewish legacy. The Create a Jewish Legacy program is high quality, results-oriented, and donor-centered.”

As for the timing, she described it as “a wonderful time for the community to come together. With the new Jewish community campus, we are creating a strong Jewish community.”

The foundation’s vice-president, Scott Schaeffer, pointed out that while Jewish causes are obviously its highest priority, clients can name any beneficiary they choose. They also have wide flexibility in deciding how funds will be allocated. He gave as an example that clients can specify “that members of the family get together each year to decide for themselves which causes they want to support — as a way to encourage an ongoing tradition of tzedaka in the younger generations.”

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