15 organizations join program to encourage endowments

Representatives of community organizations attend a training session for the Life & Legacy program.

Fifteen Montreal Jewish community organizations have taken on a yearlong challenge to persuade at least 18 people to remember them in their wills.

If that was not enough, they are also committed to trying to get another 18 the following year.

“That is correct,” Josh Rubin, philanthropic advisor at the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal (JCF), confirmed. “That’s the minimum. But we encourage each organization to aim for the stretch goal of 25 gifts. Anything over 25 starts counting towards the next year’s quota.”

Actually, it’s a little more complicated than simply getting a mention in a last testament. The diverse group of 15 has signed on to Life & Legacy (L&L), a U.S.-based program designed to encourage people to create endowments that will benefit non-profit Jewish organizations of their choice in their communities over the long term.

The 15 are approaching their most loyal donors, and ideally new ones. They are being taught how to broach this, which requires sensitivity, said Josh Rubin, who co-ordinates the program at the JCF.

L&L draws on both marketing and psychology to overcome people’s reluctance to think about their demise and convince them of the value of giving after they are gone.

Launched seven years ago, L&L is an initiative of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation (HGF), whose goal is ensuring the financial security of North American Jewish institutions. It works with Jewish federations and foundations throughout the United States, encompassing over 600 organizations.

Montreal and Calgary are the only Canadian communities enrolled to date. JCF will be a partner for at least four years.

Thus far, L&L has secured more than 25,000 commitments of after-death donations with a total value in excess of US$900 million ($1.2 billion).

The HGF, which was created by the billionaire businessman, is investing close to US$10 million over 10 years in the effort.

Fifteen was the maximum number of participants for this inaugural Montreal cohort, but more were interested, said Rubin.

Endowments can take numerous forms, he said, such as pledging cash, securities or life insurance transfers, “but the most accessible is to leave it in an estate.”

The cohort was deliberately mixed, not only by type, but financial capacity, as well.

The participants include: Shaar Hashomayim, Beth Tikvah, Dorshei Emet, Shaare Zedek, Shaare Zion, Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, Talmud Torah/Herzliah High School, Akiva School, Hebrew Foundation School, the Jewish Public Library, Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA, the Segal Centre for Performing Arts and Camp B’nai Brith.

The smaller organizations include Friendship Circle, a Chabad centre that helps children with special needs, and Auberge Shalom pour femmes, a shelter and professional counselling service for domestic abuse victims.

Executive director Sarah Rosenhek said Auberge Shalom, which is now 30 years old, is grateful to be included.

“As the only resource of its kind in the country, we want to make sure it will continue to exist well into the future,” she said. Of the 400 women’s shelters in Canada, only Auberge Shalom has a specific mandate to serve the Jewish community, she noted. It is also the first women’s shelter that has participated in L&L anywhere in North America.

While Auberge Shalom does receive provincial government funding, private support is essential for the extra costs of being shomer Shabbat, such as kosher food, as well as specialized services offered to Orthodox Jews.

Auberge Shalom has a very small administrative team and no one works solely on development. The training, coaching, support and technical resources it’s getting through L&L are “amazing,” Rosenhek said.

Conjugal violence is not an easy sell to begin with and, due to confidentiality issues, donors never get to see the shelter or counselling office, she added.

“What we love about L&L is the collective spirit and approach, everything about how it is set up for the organizations is designed to promote the building of a vibrant Jewish community in Montreal together,” said Rosenhek.

Rubin pointed out that legacy donors can support as many of the organizations as they wish. And there is no minimum gift, he added. The goal is to instill the idea of endowments as a philanthropic option among Jewish Montrealers.

The organizations are offered an incentive: if they sign up the targeted 18 people this year, they receive $7,000, and another $3,000 if they get 25.

JCF assists donors in finding the most tax-efficient ways of leaving a legacy. Now it its 47th year, JCF manages close to 2,300 funds with total assets in excess of $1.47 billion.

Beverlee Ashmele shows off the mugs she painted at a fundraiser for Auberge Shalom pour femmes earlier this year.

Rubin believes that makes it one of the biggest Jewish community foundations on the continent, second only to Cleveland.

If these initial two years meet the goal, it will add 500-600 funds to its portfolio, Rubin pointed out, and that will hopefully have a “magnifying” effect.

JCF executive director Kathy Assayag said, “A key benefit of endowments is that they create perpetual income streams that take some of the edge off the year-to-year fundraising pressures that all non-profit organizations face.

“By working together, the organizations will create synergies that will benefit the community as a whole, as well as secure their own futures.”