The Case for Multi-Generational Philanthropy

Jeffrey and Susan Stern (left) joined their children, Peter, Janna, and Michael, to talk about transmitting the value of philanthropy across generations at a JCF salon on multi-generational philanthropy. Image courtesy Shirley Serure.

by Tamar Snyder

What are the most effective ways to transmit your philanthropic values to your children and grandchildren while also ensuring that your charitable legacy within the Jewish community continues to endure? That’s one of the key questions on our minds here at Jewish Communal Fund, the donor-advised fund of the Jewish community of greater New York, which distributes an average of $250 million in grants to thousands of charities annually. A growing percentage of our fund holders are third generation members of charitable Jewish families, and we’ve been hard at work exploring the best ways to engage the NextGen in open and honest conversations around their values and how those values connect to their charitable giving. We established the Center for Next Generation Philanthropy last year and recently entered into a strategic partnership with Slingshot to create meaningful resources and programming to educate, engage and empower the next generation of Jewish philanthropists.

Last Tuesday, Loews Corporation chairman, Andrew Tisch, and his wife, Ann Rubenstein Tisch, a well-known journalist and educator, hosted an intimate salon at their home focused on Jewish Communal Fund’s expertise in multi-generational philanthropy. Sharna Goldseker, director of 21/64, moderated a lively discussion with Susan and Jeffrey Stern and their children, Peter, Janna and Michael, about their shared family values around philanthropy.

“Some families bond over football; in our family, we bond over philanthropy,” Peter Stern, an investment professional who co-founded UJA-Federation of New York’s Generosity Committee, told the crowd.

Susie Stern, the 2011-2012 National Campaign Chairman for Jewish Federations of North America, was nominated by President Obama to chair the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Her husband, Jeffrey, a partner at a private equity advisory firm, serves on the executive committee at the UJA-Federation of New York. The Sterns are also a family with three generations who utilize JCF’s donor-advised funds.

Using a donor-advised fund empowers charitable giving, explained the Sterns’ daughter-in-law, Janna, an attorney who also serves on the board of the 14 Street Y. “By providing a vehicle to set aside charitable dollars in advance, JCF lets you focus your energy on supporting causes and helping people,” she said.

Here are some tips for parents seeking to engage young people in philanthropy, which we believe are applicable to Jewish professionals working in the NextGen sphere, too:

  • Model the engagement you would like to see. The Stern children spoke about the powerful childhood experience of going with their parents to the tarmac and watching Jews from the former Soviet Union take their first steps to freedom. “We didn’t view this as a philanthropic experience,” noted Michael Stern. “It was just our childhood.” Conducting site visits of charities or participating in a service-oriented program can serve as a powerful experience that encourages generosity.
  • Enable younger people to feel the satisfaction inherent in giving. Shortly after each of their sons celebrated his Bar Mitzvah, the Sterns established donor-advised funds in their names through JCF. This charitable giving vehicle empowered the young men to recommends grants to the charities of their choosing – and experience the joy inherent in helping other people and giving to causes they believed in. “It allowed me to give in an organized fashion to charities that were meaningful to me,” Michael said. These affordable funds help our younger fund holders get into the habit of giving. Then, when they start working, they start to replenish the funds on their own or with their spouses.
  • To make more significant grants, give as a group. In partnership with schools, synagogues, and youth groups like J-Teen Leadership, JCF establishes group charitable giving funds and runs the Teen Tzedakah Summit, a half-day group giving circle in which teens pool funds for charity. Teens “vet” charities focused on a specific topic (such as hunger or disaster-relief) by hearing from organizational representatives about the work that the charity does. The teens then engage in a text study around priorities in giving and learn how to use tools like GuideStar and Charity Navigator to research the charities they are considering donating to. They talk openly with one another about their values and then decide as a group how to distribute their charitable funds. The giving circle model is a powerful experiential activity that leads teens to really think about their values and evaluate the impact of their charitable dollars.
  • Celebrate lifecycle events by incorporating Tzedakah. JCF offers a variety of affordable funds to help young people infuse the most joyous moments of their life with the satisfaction inherent in helping others. From Bar and Bat Mitzvah Funds and Wedding Funds to Children’s Giving Funds and NextGen Funds, linking celebrations with Tzedakah is a win-win.
  • Make Jewish holidays meaningful by making a charitable grant. It’s a nice idea to create a tradition of giving as part of your holiday celebrations. This is particularly true on the eve of Rosh Hashana, as Tzedakah is one of the three paths leading to a year that is “written and sealed” for good.

At JCF, we view donor-advised funds as a valuable tool in transmitting the ethos of philanthropy to the next generation. In addition to being low-cost, easy to use, and tax-efficient, donor-advised funds encourage strategic thinking about charitable giving. With a DAF, you can make a contribution of shares of stock or cash before year-end, so that you receive a tax deduction now. But there’s no pressure to make grant decisions right away; your charitable dollars can grow tax-free while you take the time to research charities and evaluate impact.

Tamar Snyder is a strategic consultant at Jewish Communal Fund. She can be reached at