In a bid to ensure the future of the Jewish community, the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix launched the Life & Legacy program in 2015. Since then, 557 individuals have made legacy commitments worth $32 million to the 12 participating organizations.
“It’s a phenomenal success and it validates the purpose for our existence and what we do every day to get this kind of a response out of the community in such a short time,” said Richard Kasper, JCF’s president and CEO. “A commitment of more than $32 million in a community our size is really significant and it’s evident that endowment building is important and that people share our goals.”
For the Minkoff Center of Jewish Genetics, one of the program’s 12 local partners, the commitments from donors are not only a financial guarantee for the future but an indicator of the confidence that the community has in the organization and its mission.
“We have this group of people who have given us a vote of confidence — ‘we believe in what you’re doing now … and I choose to try and help it be secured for future generations,’” said Wendy Carriere, Minkoff Center’s executive director.
Twelve local organizations partnered with the JCF for the Life & Legacy program, including the Minkoff Center, Jewish Free Loan, the Arizona Jewish Historical Society, Congregation Or Tzion, Temple Chai, Temple Emanuel of Tempe, Temple Kol Ami, the East Valley Jewish Community Center, Hillel at Arizona State University, Jewish Family & Children’s Service, the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix/Martin Pear Jewish Community Center and Pardes Jewish Day School.
“It really is allowing us to focus on being here for generations to come,” said Ellie Friedman Sacks, JFL’s executive director. “And to have that happen in such a collaborative way, to be one of 12 local organizations coming together and learning together and having similar experiences as we build our planned giving and our endowments, has been really a unique and positive experience.”
Bringing together all 12 organizations for a common cause helped strengthen the entire community, said Aviva Levine, development associate at JFL.
“I think [donors] begin to understand that we aren’t all vying for the same dollar. At the end of the day, we’re trying to ensure that the community has the ability to sustain itself,” Levine said. “It’s not just give this one $100,000 or give that one $2 million. The community needs to pull together in order to maintain where it is and how to see the future and how to provide for the future generation.”
Greater Phoenix was one of 63 communities across North America that the Harold Grinspoon Foundation strengthened through its Life & Legacy program. In total, those 63 communities now have 17,000 donors who have pledged $1 billion in support of Jewish organizations.
The program made an enduring impact on both the community and the JCF of Greater Phoenix, Kasper said. It brought together Jewish Community Foundations throughout the country, building a network of resources and connections that will serve Jewish communities well into the future. And it started a conversation about legacy giving that was especially important for the Greater Phoenix community.
“One of the things that this program has done, is it has helped us make legacy giving much more visible in our community, and that’s something that we really do owe a debt of gratitude to the Harold Grinspoon Foundation for,” Kasper said. “By doing this and by doing it nationally — and by really driving the bus on this — it’s given us the resources to reach into our local partner organizations and help lift them up and teach them not just how to do legacy giving, but why to do legacy giving.”
A conversation with donors about legacy giving isn’t a conversation about dying, but instead “about what’s happened and what they value during their lifetimes, and how they can perpetuate that and do something that is meaningful to them and meaningful to the community while they are alive,” Kasper said.
Local partners quickly found that out in talking to donors about the Life & Legacy program.
“It’s a very unique conversation to have,” Sacks said. “I think it’s important, particularly for donors who have a very strong connection with an organization, and who may want to see that connection continue for many years to come and generations to come, to have them understand the impact of the gift and the different mechanisms that are in place to enable them to leave their legacy.”
Throughout the program, the two foundations provided critical support to local partners every step of the way. Organizations met together for training and one-on-one with Rachel Rabinovich, Life & Legacy program director for the JCF of Greater Phoenix, and Arlene Schiff, national director of Life & Legacy, for additional support. The JCF’s role, Kasper said, went beyond training to “instilling best practices in these organizations, monitoring their progress and incentivizing their success.”
Initially, Carriere wasn’t sure that the Minkoff Center would be able to meet its Life & Legacy goals. When she became executive director in 2017, two years into the Life & Legacy program, the center was behind on its goal for legacy commitments, and she wasn’t sure if they’d be able to catch up. With the JCF’s help, the Minkoff Center’s leadership came together and not only met but exceeded their expectations.
“This is really important for the future generation,” Carriere said. “It’s not just for us. It’s so that we can continue to provide our testing and counseling in this community to the next generation, and the only way to do that was to figure out how to get it done.”
The program also built on itself. The Minkoff Center, which regularly celebrates legacy donors by hosting special events and acknowledging their contributions to the organization, found that increasing the visibility of the Life & Legacy program and its donors has led to increased interest from community members who want to know how it works or know a friend or family member who might be interested.
Carriere learned that legacy gifts aren’t only a possibility for people “who had millions of dollars and maybe generational wealth,” but instead an accessible way for anyone in the community to support organizations that they care deeply about. Ultimately, her whole family got involved.
“Our kids actually, who are 22 and 21, they’re legacy donors now too,” Carriere said. “It seems such a stretch to have a 20-year-old or a young person participate, but they’re at the beginning of their earning cycle, and putting that into writing, saying ‘I have a commitment, this is what I’m going to do,’ it just was a very meaningful program.”
The community will start to see the impact of those commitments over the course of decades. As the $32 million in commitments that were made in the last five years are realized, the funds will be held and invested by JCF as permanent endowments on behalf of local partners.
“They will generate annual gifts back to those organizations that will be the very beginning of their annual campaign,” Kasper said. “It creates a tremendous amount of stability in those organizations, because rather than starting every fiscal year at zero, they know that they will be getting a head start.”
It’s meaningful, Sacks said, to see the dedication of donors and the motivation of the community to support local organizations that make a difference.
“We’re always planning for the future, we’re always planning for the needs of the community and we plan to be here for generations to come,” Sacks said. “And knowing that there are individuals and very thoughtful people who are planning ahead and want to see our work continue for future generations is very special. It’s important to the organization; it’s important to the community.”
It’s a promise not only of financial security, but of community dedication.
“I think it really made a lasting impression that this community does care about the future generations, and for Minkoff Center, that’s really what we’re here for,” Carriere said. “We’re really looking out for generational health, and if we can’t secure the next generation financially for our programs, we’re not really doing everything we can for our community.” JN