MILWAUKEE – About $16 million has been promised for the future of local Jewish organizations, thanks to committed local donors and a potent national program that’s been passionately applied in Wisconsin.
After two years of incentives and training to help local Jewish organizations connect with donors to arrange after-lifetime giving through wills, insurance and other methods, the Create a Jewish Legacy program has exceeded its goals. In all, more than 400 local donors have signed promises worth an estimated $16 million, to leave a Jewish legacy for 15 local organizations.
“Typically, our agencies, synagogues and schools focus on annual fundraising in order to turn the lights on and keep the programs going and pay the salaries and all things that organizations have to do on a daily basis,” said Caren B. Goldberg, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of Milwaukee Jewish Federation. Endowment development isn’t always a top priority, but the Create a Jewish Legacy program has brought know-how and new interest in after-lifetime giving, she said.
“We are seeing a culture shift. We are seeing a real shift in the community toward the creation of endowments,” Goldberg said.
The local Create a Jewish Legacy program is part of a national effort, the Life & Legacy program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Through training, support and monetary incentives, Life & Legacy motivates Jewish organizations to secure legacy gifts, steward donors and integrate legacy giving into the philanthropic culture of the Jewish community, according to the Massachusetts-based Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
Incentives that can be earned or lost by local organizations annually are designed to create a sense of urgency. By all accounts, it’s working. Since the inception of the program in the fall of 2012, partnerships with 24 communities, 13 Hillel campus affiliates and 7 small federations have assisted 303 Jewish organizations in local areas, to secure 9,364 legacy commitments, according to Arlene D. Schiff, national director of the Life & Legacy program for the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Those numbers are as of March 31, 2016.
At first, Life & Legacy was a two-year program. “It was expanded to a four year program in March of 2015 because of my personal experience – it took four years for legacy giving to truly become integrated into the community culture in the community where I ran the program at the local level,” said Schiff, by email with the Chronicle. “Additionally the (Grinspoon) board of trustees realized that it was important for us to support our partner communities for more than two years in order to help them with the formalization of their initial legacy commitments, ensure that they all had strong stewardship practices in place and that steps are being taken to sustain the program over the long term.”
The Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s $3 million investment has so far resulted in an estimated $376.7 million in future gifts to the Jewish community, Schiff said.
“Harold invests in programs that have a high return on investment for the Jewish community and would tell you that this program has an amazing return on investment – more than 100 fold!” she said.
Harold Grinspoon, 87, is a Massachusetts real estate billionaire who said he grew up poor in Boston’s suburbs, according to an article on MassLive.com. He believes that for Judaism to continue to have an impact on families and society, Jewish living and learning must be actively cultivated. “That is why I am committing nearly all my assets to my Foundation to pursue this goal,” he said in a Grinspoon Foundation statement in 2015.
How it works locally
The program includes training for local organizations, to give them a sense of how to talk about legacy giving with potential donors. To create urgency, the program includes goals with time limits, backed by incentives. The first year required 18 legacy commitments from each local organization and then the second year required it again. Each year, the reward for success is a $10,000 unrestricted grant for the organization, adding up to a total of $300,000 in grants paid out over two years.
In all, twice that amount, $600,000, has been raised for the program so far, paying for those incentives and other expenses. The Grinspoon Foundation required that half of the $600,000 had to come from Milwaukee Jewish Federation and its Jewish Community Foundation – in other words, from local donors. The other half has come from the Grinspoon Foundation itself (that’s where the national $3 million investment from Grinspoon comes into play).
All participating organizations in Milwaukee have met or beat the Grinspoon goals for two years running. For the second year in a row, as of May 31, 2016, the 15 organizations had each again reported at least 18 legacy gifts, each again earning a $10,000 incentive.
The Jewish Community Foundation has employed various methods to encourage and thank donors (sometimes called “stewarding” donors), including its “Book of Life” program, where donors are invited to add their stories to the local tome. The book has more than 100 entries and it is kept at Milwaukee Jewish Federation offices in the Helfaer Community Service Building, 1360 N. Prospect Ave.
On Wednesday, June 22, the Jewish Community Foundation held “An Evening of Appreciation” for local donors at the Wisconsin Club’s Country Club in Brown Deer. The free event honored, celebrated and thanked. The event chairs were Jody Kaufman Loewenstein and Deborah Carneol Fendrich. Betsy and Michael Green were presented with the 2016 Legacy Leadership Award. There was also a special remembrance for Merton Rotter, a community volunteer and legacy leader.
Local giving, local future
Local leaders involved with the project say it’s an investment in the future of the local Jewish community, not just because of the $16 million in legacy gifts, but also because the program has excited and informed both donors and local organizations.
“It helps ensure the future of the synagogues and the agencies,” said Stephen L. Chernof, chair of the Jewish Community Foundation. “I think it’s common knowledge that for the long term our institutions need to rely less on annual giving than on strengthening their endowments for their viability.”
The program has increased awareness of planned giving. “That will outlast the program,” he said, adding that the program has “brought the synagogues and the agencies to the table together with a shared interest in this.”
Loewenstein, who is chair of the local Create a Jewish Legacy program, said she works on the program because it’s “very forward thinking and very unifying.”
“It’s a visionary project to think in the here and now about what this community could be in the future,” she said. “The exciting part of the project for me personally was that there was a collaboration between and among the institutions.”
“I think what is the most important aspect of this program is that we are helping to turn the vision and the passion of our donors into future reality.”
The Create a Jewish Legacy program will continue locally for a third year, providing new training and guidance for participating organizations.
“Each agency will devise a stewardship plan and how they plan to steward their donors at least four to six times a year in a variety of ways,” said Jane Chernof, program coordinator for Create a Jewish Legacy. This can be through events or other methods of showing appreciation.
“It’s really recognizing and honoring,” Goldberg explained. “You can never say thank you enough,” Loewenstein said.
Donors who leave a legacy gift to an organization tend to stay committed for their lifetime, so the benefit can reach beyond the hard numbers, Chernof said.
“To be able to accomplish this with 15 organizations is pretty amazing,” Goldberg said. “We have a very committed Jewish community in Milwaukee.”
Participants earned $10,000 grants
These local participants in the Create a Jewish Legacy program have each established at least 18 legacy gifts for the second year in a row. Under the incentive rules of the program, each has earned two $10,000 unrestricted grants.
Anshe Sfard Kehillat Torah
Bader Hillel Academy
BBYO Wisconsin region
Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid
Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun
Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center
Jewish Begininngs Lubavitch Preschool
Jewish Family Services
Jewish Museum Milwaukee
Milwaukee Jewish Day School
Milwaukee Jewish Federation
Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center
Peltz Center for Jewish Life
Yeshiva Elementary School
Partnerships with communities
The Grinspoon Foundation has ramped up efforts to arrange after-lifetime giving nationwide. The list of participants includes nearby communities.