What Will Your Legacy Be?

legacyBy Chuck Cohen

What are your passions? What are the causes that you support? Do you want your support to continue beyond your lifetime?

Those are the questions I ask myself when making philanthropic decisions, and that I encourage my clients to ask themselves in their estate planning. I posed those same questions to Jewish community members when, in 1998, I was asked to chair a legacy campaign with my local Federation. The goal was to obtain $100 million in funds and commitments by 2005, our Federation’s centennial year. We are a community of about 11,000 Jews but we exceeded our goal.

Philanthropy comes naturally to me as a Jewish value. Growing up, I was taught not only the importance of supporting causes in the local community, but also the need to encourage other people to support them. In our small town in Western Kentucky, my dad was always raising money, whether it was for band uniforms or for the baseball program.

And from the days my family dropped coins in the JNF “blue box,” I’ve understood the importance of contributing to the Jewish community as well. That understanding grew when I lived in Cleveland and learned that Federations provide a crucial connection to Israel, supporting agencies that keep the Jewish community strong and serving as a place for people to be actively engaged, not simply to write checks.

Once I moved to Indianapolis, I deepened my involvement in Federation and the Jewish community, both locally and nationally.

I want people in our community to understand that making a legacy gift not only allows your name to live on. It also enables everything you stand for and support to continue even when you are no longer here. Those who came before me, whose names I know because of their contributions to the community, are still making an impact through their gifts, helping community institutions to thrive. I want to be one of those people – leaving a legacy that will help sustain the community beyond my lifetime.

I want to set an example for my children, my grandchildren, my friends and colleagues and their children, and hope to ignite in them a spark that will lead them to do the same.

Thanks to Jewish Federations, these types of contributions are becoming more common nationally. About eight years ago, the Planned Giving and Endowment Department of The Jewish Federations of North America began piloting the Create a Jewish Legacy program, providing grants and technical support to local Jewish Federations grants to help them mobilize and train the leaders of local Jewish organizations—synagogues, day schools, Jewish community centers, nursing homes, social service agencies—on how to ask for and secure bequests.

The local Federation’s philanthropic advisers help with the details of bequests, allowing the organizations’ leaders to focus on having meaningful conversations with community donors, tapping into their individual passions. These leaders demonstrate to donors that their gifts help the institutions about which they care deeply not only today but beyond their lifetimes – and that they can accomplish it within their means.

Setting an example for others is one of my highest philanthropic goals. My own bequests include gifts to my synagogue, local Jewish community center, overseas programs, AIPAC, Birthright Israel, my university and law school, United Way and, of course, to Federation itself. I have included a bequest to the JFNA Endowment Fund to specifically support the Planned Giving and Endowment Department of JFNA to extend my impact beyond my own Jewish community. Additionally, a fund will be created to make annual contributions to all of the Jewish and secular organizations that my wife and I support each year.

My passion is to help JFNA as the North American Jewish community’s central address, bringing us all together regardless of synagogue or other affiliation and connecting Israel and the Diaspora. Through my bequests, I help ensure that our community keeps growing its endowment and has funding beyond my lifetime to continue its good works, help educate our children, provide social services, care for our elderly and link us to Israel and Jews worldwide.

An endowment is forever. Let your name be remembered as a blessing.

Chuck Cohen is the past president and current long-term endowment chair of the Jewish Federation of Indianapolis Inc.