Life & Legacy

Arlene D. Schiff, the national director of the Life & Legacy program of The Harold Grinspoon Foundation, begins training local participants on how to ask for bequests from their supporters at a March 18 session held in the Social Hall of the Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus in Scottsdale.  

    Photo courtesy of Jewish Community Foundation

Few conversations are tougher to have than the one about planning what will happen when you die. So it’s not surprising that it’s been tough for nonprofits to seek commitments for bequests, gifts made from the estate of a person who has died.

However, the Life & Legacy program, which was developed by The Harold Grinspoon Foundation and administered locally by the Jewish Community Foundation, has changed the conversation significantly.

“Our partner agencies commenced solicitation of legacy gifts on May 1, and as of Sept. 30, they have secured commitments for 117 legacy gifts with an estimated value of nearly $12 million – with assistance and direction from the Jewish Community Foundation,” wrote Richard Kasper, the foundation’s president and CEO, in an email to Jewish News.

What does that mean? Five months of effort on the part of the participating organizations had produced a future cash flow that is as significant as it is unpredictable. The unpredictability, of course, rests in the fundamental nature of a bequest: It is not accessible until the person who makes the bequest dies.

What is predictable, however, is that if the community had done nothing, much of the now-pledged $12 million would have been committed elsewhere.

A 2013 report on Jewish legacy giving (based on the National Study of Jewish Giving conducted by Jumpstart in partnership with a consortium of foundations and Jewish federations) found that while 74 percent of Jews said they have a will or other estate planning document, only 32 percent of them were planning a charitable bequest. More importantly, 66 percent of those who were planning a charitable bequest included a gift to a Jewish cause. That 66 percent translates to only about 8 percent of all the Jewish respondents with an estate plan.

The Greater Phoenix Jewish community is part of the latest cohort of eight metropolitan communities to join the national Life & Legacy program, which was launched by the Massachusetts-based Grinspoon Foundation in 2012 and now has a total of 21 participating communities, according to JCF.

By June 30 of this year, the national program had secured 5,877 legacy commitments since its launch, and more than 1,100 of those commitments had been formalized. They represent an estimated value of more than $224 million in future gifts to the Jewish community with more than $16 million in cash endowment gifts received by that date, according to JCF.

Those commitments came from the 21 participating communities and 13 Hillel campus affiliates, representing 275 organizations nationwide. The program’s goal is to eventually increase legacy giving in 50 Jewish communities nationwide and Grinspoon has committed $20 million to that effort. (For details on how the program works locally, see “12 groups in Life & Legacy program,” Jewish News, March 13, 2015 or online at

Jewish News reached out to several participants who are Jewish nonprofit professionals and they explained that the urgent need for finance in the here and now often precludes putting much effort into seeking legacy commitments, which usually don’t contribute to the bottom line in the year of the “ask.”

Having a program in place to concentrate their minds on legacy giving has helped both large and small organizations.

“Building the JFCS legacy donor base has been a part of the Jewish Family & Children’s Service fundraising plans since 2011,” wrote Frank Jacobson, marketing and development vice president of Jewish Family & Children’s Service, in an email.

“The Life & Legacy program provided an opportunity to further advance our program since the program would be promoted communitywide. We liked the idea that we could also collaborate with other organizations. The program provided a framework, training and methodology that we felt would be helpful to our organization. And, a financial incentive to sign up 25 new legacy donors each of the next two years also played a part in our decision to apply.”

JFCS is one of the largest participating nonprofits. Before JFCS decided to actively build its legacy donor base in 2011, it already had 11 legacy commitments, he said. From 2011 through April of this year, JFCS secured 21 more commitments. The increase since starting solicitations through Life & Legacy has been dramatic: 14 new commitments totaling nearly $700,000, Jacobson said.

The financial incentives for participating that Jacobson mentioned come in the first and second years of the program, said Rachel Rabinovich, JCF’s Life & Legacy program director. The nonprofits receive incentive grants from JCF for reaching certain numerical goals in each of those years: Those who obtain a minimum of 18 letters of commitment will receive $6,500 and those who obtain a maximum of 25 commitments will receive $10,000.

Such incentives also make it easier for smaller nonprofits like Hillel to put time into the effort, said Debbie Yunker Kail, executive director of Hillel at Arizona State University.

“Hillel applied because Life & Legacy was a wonderful community-oriented and structured program that would allow us to secure the future for the Jewish students at Arizona State University,” she told Jewish News in a phone interview.

“I think the structure of the program is really helpful for a small nonprofit like us that has a lot of things on the docket,” she said. “Knowing that we have deadlines, we have special trainings, knowing that we have the support system of the Jewish Community Foundation and the Grinspoon Foundation really, I think, gives me the motivation and the clarity to keep going with this project.”

Each of the participating groups has a team undergoing the training and working the program.

The training sessions, which continue through next year, “have been great times for our team to come together and strategize,” Kail said.

She also said that since starting as the director of Hillel at ASU, she had never been made aware of any legacy gifts that had been made because a supporter had died or that a supporter had made a legacy gift commitment to Hillel in their estate planning.

“We’ve had a really strong start to our [Life & Legacy] campaign,” she said, and not only from supporters that Hillel approached. The Declaration of Commitment forms mention all 12 participating groups, so that when others went out seeking legacy gifts from their supporters, some of those supporters also committed to a legacy gift to Hillel, she said.

“The other thing is this community program encourages people to tell us when they do this [pledge a legacy gift]. ...

“Whereas in the past, someone might if they were doing their will choose to list Hillel ... but it’s not common practice to let the organizations know what you’re leaving them.”

Legacy gifts, when they are paid, can build an endowment so that nonprofit directors and boards don’t have to start fundraising from zero every year.

“What we’re doing is really building a culture of sustainable philanthropy,” she said.

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