Keeping up with the press of day-to-day business can be all consuming for small Jewish organizations. How can they find the time and energy to plan and build a thriving future of serving community?
LIFE & LEGACY™, that’s how. The LIFE & LEGACY endowment building and training program, operated by the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle for 13 participating organizations in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, is helping Jewish entities of varying sizes put structures into place for building lasting financial security. LIFE & LEGACY’s tools are especially valuable for small congregations and other agencies with limited resources for institution building and strengthening connections within organizations and with the broader Jewish community.
The program has been “manna from heaven,” says Donna Lurie, past president of Congregation Kol Ami in Woodinville and a member of its LIFE & LEGACY team. “It has provided professional staff, training, and a community of like-minded people who want to assure the future of our Jewish community,” Lurie adds.
Income diversification was an important motivation for joining the LIFE & LEGACY cohort, she says. Endowment income is the fourth leg of a “four-legged table” that also includes membership dues, educational tuition, and fundraisers. “We needed that four-legged table. It’s much more stable, much more sturdy,” Lurie explains.
Before Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia joined the LIFE & LEGACY cohort, “you could count the number of planned gifts we had on one hand,” Charles Shelan, a member of the synagogue’s LIFE & LEGACY team, says. “It has helped us educate the congregation about charitable estate planning and leaving a legacy.”
The broader context of diversifying income streams is creating a culture of philanthropy that relies on refined messaging about the niche an organization fills in the Jewish community. Maura Roberts, who serves on the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Washington State (HFLA)’s LIFE & LEGACY team, says the program has given HFLA a framework to hone its message to current and potential supporters.
The program “filled a void in our fundraising,” Roberts says, pointing to the work HFLA did on writing a “case statement” detailing the organization’s vision and purpose. Drafting the statement prompted the HFLA team to “think about what we do, why we do it, and how we do it. It’s a very accessible message” that “really focuses everyone,” Roberts says.
As part of building that culture of philanthropy, LIFE & LEGACY provides an impetus for connecting more closely and deeply with members and supporters. “We have had an opportunity to reach out to long-term members and get them more involved,” says Robert Goodmark, from the LIFE & LEGACY team at Temple Beth Or in Everett. In doing so, he continues, the congregation learned from “quite a few” that “we’re in their wills. That was a big benefit.”
The program facilitates meaningful conversations with congregants and supporters about the future and their legacy — what the organization should be and what it should offer the community decades from now. Lurie says her LIFE & LEGACY team has heard a strong desire for smaller synagogues to be flourishing. “We want that choice available and thriving for future families. People want Kol Ami here for their kids and grandkids,” and to be a choice available for the people continuing to move into the Puget Sound “growth corridor,” Lurie says.
Shelan says Temple Beth Hatfiloh congregants have expressed a strong wish for the synagogue to remain a “vibrant resource for the region.” Strengthening community is all about relationships. “People have deep affinity with Judaism, with the temple, with the relationships they’ve created, built, maintained, and nurtured. They don’t want to see that evaporate,” Shelan says.