Now in its second year, the Life & Legacy program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta has its sights set on ensuring a future for Jewish giving for decades to come. Lee Katz agreed to chair the Life & Legacy program for its four-year duration. The program works with local Jewish nonprofits to attract legacy contributions, with an overall goal of $75 million.
“In 10 years if agencies don’t have 25 to 30 percent of their top-line revenue from legacy gifts they could go away altogether,” Katz said “That’s because of the changing patterns of people giving, and of course there is going to be a huge amount of wealth transferred in that time.”
Similar projects existed in the past, for example the “Create a Jewish Legacy” program, but in recent years, organizations have been lacking a centralized resource for legacy giving.
“It’s about building endowment for Jewish organizations in Atlanta, which is crucially important for the sustainability of a lot of nonprofit organizations,” said Christy Eckoff, CFO and managing director of the Federation’s Atlanta Jewish Foundation. “Atlanta has not traditionally been strong in building endowment.”
The project is a joint venture here in Atlanta between the Federation and the Boston-based Harold Grinspoon Foundation, which creates a support network for select organizations in the community and resources for those agencies to create and train teams dedicated to legacy giving.
“We decided that this was a crucial thing for organizations to talk to their donors about Legacy and go through the process of helping those donors make those gifts in their estate planning,” Eckoff said.
Legacy giving can be a difficult subject to broach, but Katz explains that it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Some people have difficulty thinking about it, but it’s really about l’dor v’dor and it can be a very simple thing to accomplish,” he said. “We have a number of experienced members at the Atlanta Jewish Foundation that can help meet with the different agencies and help with their larger needs, as well as educate them.”
One misconception Katz was sure to note was that legacy gifts were exclusive to individuals with high net worth.
“We’re not targeting the one percent,” he explained. “They’re there and it certainly comes up, but these gifts can start as small as a thousand dollars, … which [means we’re appealing to] the other 99 percent.”
While Eckoff emphasizes that Atlanta’s agencies have had great success in the past with annual fundraising, one struggle both she and Katz cited was the difficulty of putting together a team dedicated to legacy gifts.
“When we first rolled into town about a year and a half ago, we had over 80 representatives of these agencies who wanted to do this,” Katz said.
An important aspect of the program is the training for agency staff members, both with experts from the Grinspoon Foundation on a quarterly basis, as well as local committee members who can sit with legacy coordinators and answer questions.
These trainings enable agencies to be more effective in securing a future, Katz said. In its first year, there were five trainings covering such topics as legacy plan training, legacy conversations, marketing and stewardship.
“It takes that cohort of lay leaders and professional staff through and sits them down to learn from prepared material,” Eckoff said. “We know it is taking time away from that traditional large-gift fundraising, so there are incentives in place for organizations that get a certain number of letters of intent.”
Those letters are also an area of convenience for donors, according to Katz. Because Life & Legacy has many partnered organizations, they exist on one form, which allows donors to make multiple gifts simultaneously.
“If somebody comes to me and says we’d like to you to leave a legacy gift to The Davis Academy, I can also check off boxes for Temple Emanu-El, or MJCCA or the Jewish Home,” he said. “It keeps the same people from getting numerous calls and keeps it simple.”
Enabling agencies to take all the steps necessary to secure an endowment for the future is the goal of the Life & Legacy project, and that means helping donors remain aware and committed to their gift, Katz said.
“One of the problems in the past is that there was no follow-up,” Katz said. “It was something you put on a piece of paper and then put in a drawer and forgot about. … That’s the beauty of the Life & Legacy program; it reinforces the importance of these legacy donors while also giving them confidence in the agency.”
With its first year in the books, Eckoff is optimistic about the future.
“It’s gone very well; the organizations all met their goals around letters of intent,” she said. “Atlanta donors haven’t really been asked these questions before, and many are at a place where they’re thinking about their legacies.”
The agencies partnering with the Life & Legacy Program are:
Atlanta Jewish Academy
Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
Congregation Bet Haverim
Congregation B’nai Torah
Congregation Or Hadash
Congregation Shearith Israel
Jewish Family & Career Services
Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta
Jewish Interest Free Loans of Atlanta
Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta
Marcus Jewish Community Center
Camp Ramah Darom
The Alfred & Adele Davis Academy
The Breman Museum
The Epstein School
Torah Day School of Atlanta