When you talk about legacy giving or endowments, most people think of Baby Boomers and senior citizens. Many people were surprised when, at 32 years old, I became part of the committee for a new program brought to Cincinnati called Create Your Jewish Legacy. Designed to help our community achieve sustainability, the program focuses on increasing legacy giving, often referred to as planned giving, in a collaborative, community-wide way.
When I reached out to my friends, and fellow community Gen-Xers, they generally hadn’t thought about legacy giving, but it didn’t take much explaining for them to get on board right alongside my husband Andy and I. In our thirties, many of us have families and have settled into a career. We have probably thought about or put together a will, have retirement funds and/or life insurance, or are beginning to think about the process. I realized that this is actually the right time to start talking about legacy gifts and making the commitment for the future of our Jewish communities.
In fact, one of the most surprising results from the Create Your Jewish Legacy program in Cincinnati so far has been that one third of those who have made legacy commitments to our local Jewish organizations and congregations are under 45 years old!
Typically, 17% of individuals with charitable gifts in their wills are under 45. Although Cincinnati’s program includes commitments made through a variety of vehicles in addition to wills, we are seeing double that rate.
Why have we seen such success? I believe the answer is simple: we are asking, and because our generation cares about the future of our Cincinnati Jewish community.
I have sat in on a number of training seminars run by leading thinkers on endowments and planned giving. Most experts don’t even discuss age groups under 55. We are demonstrating reason to start the conversation. We are proving that it pays to simply ask and talk about the importance of sustaining our Jewish community.
It’s also worth note that we are not just asking for money – we’re talking to people about their values and what they want to hand down to future generations. It’s affirming their Jewish identity and experience, and offering a way to perpetuate that. Many people have started walking away from our legacy conversations with a desire to become more involved in the Jewish community today to help ensure its growth and strength for tomorrow.
In some ways, it’s easier to make these legacy preparations when you are young. It’s also easy for those of us with young kids to start envisioning and being invested in the future of our community in a more long-term way. More than annual campaign gifts, which might compete with current family needs, legacy gifts are about what’s left. In other words, donors keep their money throughout their lives, and their beneficiaries – nonprofits and relatives alike – share what’s left. It makes legacy giving simple, flexible, and accessible to those of all ages and levels of resources.
Recently, I brought together a group of my friends and peers to the Cincinnati JCC to talk about legacy giving. Each of the people present have now made a commitment. All of us in the room had benefited from the strong, supportive and vibrant Jewish community we have in Cincinnati, and we recognized that our generation needs to step up to ensure that the great programs and institutions of today will last for future generations.
I have been involved in various degrees within the Jewish community all my life, and I can see how this type of giving is not only necessary, but the message it sends to the other generations is important to hear: we care. We are committed to our Jewish community, and as annual giving declines, it has become vital that organizations create endowment funds to maintain operations. We understand that need. We understand that means keeping the community alive and thriving: vibrant congregations, strong day schools, services for the elderly and others in need, Holocaust education, Jewish cemeteries, and much more. We are a committed group of young adults who stand strong in helping to ensure our Cincinnati Jewish community endures and thrives for generations and generations to come.
Cincinnati is one of over 40 communities participating in a national program to build needed endowments for Jewish organizations, and has quickly stood out for its successes, particularly among young adults. The Create Your Jewish Legacy (CYJL) program, a community-wide initiative led by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, is encouraging community members of all ages to consider this type of gift planning.
Ariella Cohen is past president of the Rockwern Academy PTO, served on the Mayerson JCC board, has been on the board of the Jewish Federation and is active on the Young Adult Division Board. She is a recipient of the Clara Greller Award, given to women under age 40 who show exceptional leadership and commitment to the Jewish community. Ariella is a recent graduate of the Wexner Heritage Program.