The Talmud tells the story of Honi, a wise man who takes a walk and notices another man planting a carob tree. Honi asks the man why he would plant a tree that would not bear fruit for 70 years. The man answers: “Just like my ancestors planted for me, I plant for my children.”
Over 50 years ago, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle planted a “carob tree,” thanks to the vision and foresight of generous donors. Since then, the tree has yielded rich fruit that has helped the Puget Sound Jewish community to grow, develop, and serve its changing needs.
That “tree” is the Seattle Jewish Community Endowment Fund, one of many ways the Federation works to ensure Jewish continuity. Like the carob tree in the Talmud story, the Federation’s endowment fund is a gift from the present to the future, a permanent source of support for cultural, learning, human services, and other programs that benefit Jewish Puget Sound.
Tony Ramsey, the Federation’s new Director of Endowment and Planned Giving, says the Jewish Community Endowment Fund holds great potential as an engine for Jewish philanthropy. It is a resource for donors to deploy their gifts to achieve maximum impact on causes that matter most to them and a partner for local Jewish organizations to secure a healthy financial future.
“My goal is for the Federation to become the go-to community foundation for the Greater Seattle Jewish philanthropic community,” Ramsey says. When it comes to directing their giving, donors have many choices. “If a philanthropist cares about Israel or Jewish continuity, there is no other institution in our region that has deeper knowledge of this area. We can help philanthropists make the strongest impact with their charitable dollars by building constructive, sustainable change for the Jewish people and the world,” he adds.
The endowment fund is the steward of funds that are invested by individuals, families, and Jewish organizations. The endowment fund as a whole is managed by the global investment firm SEI. Investments are overseen by a Federation committee of legal, financial, and accounting professionals.
Holding a fund with the Federation, in and of itself, is an investment in the community. By pooling the community’s charitable capital, the endowment fund provides sufficient scale for offering investment strategies at prices not available to investors acting on their own, Ramsey says. Moreover, unlike fees charged by commercial fund managers, “every penny of the Federation’s fees [associated with maintaining a fund with the Federation] supports and strengthens the Jewish community,” Ramsey explains. It’s impact investing at its finest.
Establishment of the Federation endowment fund dates to the mid-1960s. Since 1991, the fund’s assets have grown sixfold, from $9 million to nearly $65 million today. By generating investment income year after year, the endowment principal is the gift that keeps on giving. In fiscal year 2018 (July 1, 2017–June 30, 2018), the endowment was the source of nearly $2.5 million in grants for Jewish, Israeli, and other programs. Since the endowment provides a steady stream of income, it enhances financial security for benefiting programs, serving as a funding floor that supplements revenues organizations receive from annual gifts, grants, and other sources.
Endowment can be a source of knowledge as well as funds for Jewish organizations. Ramsey says he wants to build on the impact of LIFE & LEGACY™, a program the Federation is carrying out in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation to help a cohort of participating Jewish organizations build their own endowments and create a culture of legacy giving.
“There have been some pretty amazing results already. As we look to the future, I think it’s a natural fit for the Federation to support our communal institutions by helping them invest in their long-term sustainability,” Ramsey says.
The LIFE & LEGACY cohort has secured an estimated cumulative total of $11.4 million in future gifts, which will generate roughly $513,000 every year for Jewish organizations. That’s the power of endowment.
Likewise, for individuals looking to strategically deploy their charitable dollars to achieve the most impact, Ramsey sees the Federation endowment fund as a source of philanthropic intellectual capital. By strengthening relationships with donors and engaging new donors, “we can go beyond serving as a philanthropic bank and embrace the role of serving as a center for Jewish philanthropy. We can connect funders with the many opportunities for assuring continuity and the continued growth in Jewish life.”
The time is right to unleash the power of endowment, Ramsey says. By 2027, according to an estimate published in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, almost $9 trillion — equal to nearly half the US gross domestic product in 2018 — will be passed down in inherited wealth. If just 5 percent is contributed to philanthropy, the annual income stream could reach $22 billion — five times what the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation paid out in grants in 2016.
“Our community has an unprecedented opportunity to make a substantial investment in the future of the Jewish people, both locally and worldwide,” Ramsey says. “The Federation’s Seattle Jewish Community Endowment Fund will be the catalyst that will make that investment happen.”