To build an endowment, you first have to ask

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In the decade since the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy set up its endowment, the school has received legacy gifts from all sorts of unexpected places.

“One guy gave because he lived near the school,” says Paul Glashofer, the Rockville school’s endowment co-chair. “Another guy had a nephew who went here for a year.”


If the school has supporters like that, he says, “imagine what we could we do if we approached our stakeholders.”

Over the next two decades, baby boomers are expected to inherit $11.6 trillion dollars, according to a study by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College. It is part of the largest transfer of wealth in American history that is taking place during the next 50 years.

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Jewish organizations like the Berman Academy want to be recipients of that transfer so they can build endowments and help guarantee their future. The school is one of 30 area synagogues and other institutions participating in a community-wide effort to build a permanent endowment and create a culture of endowment giving.

The effort, called Create a Jewish Legacy, is sponsored by the United Jewish Endowment Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. Now in its third year, the Create a Jewish Legacy has become a partner with Life & Legacy, a two-year program sponsored by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation. Greater Washington is one of 15 North American communities to participate.


“Life & Legacy provides us additional resources for training and marketing,” says Jennifer A. Scher, senior philanthropic officer of Create a Jewish Legacy.

It also holds out the possibility of a $5,000 bonus for the institutions that complete a checklist of requirements, including 22 signed legacy commitments, by Aug. 31, 2014.

“It’s not a lot of money, but it’s another reason to go back to somebody” and ask for a gift, says Jennifer Zukerman, development director of the Hebrew Academy. “Research shows that once somebody has signed, it increases their involvement.”

“It’s a great kick start,” says Marc Bronfman, vice president of development at Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County, which began working with Create a Jewish Legacy two years ago, after “a number of false starts” in building its endowment.

As a small synagogue, Congregation Adat Reyim in Springfield looks at $5,000 as serious money, says executive director Liz Bayer.

Adat Reyim got involved in Create a Jewish Legacy a year ago. “We do a good job fundraising for the here and now, but not for the future,” Bayer says. “Because we don’t ask.”

Boiled down to one word, the message that participants are getting from the experts they meet with is this: Ask.

Asking is the “single most difficult thing to do,” Bronfman says.

Says Bayer, “Once we asked, we were surprised how many people already included us in our will.”

Bayer and other participants were taught to prepare a presentation before they ask for a bequest. They write a case statement, including a history of the institution and why someone would want to leave a gift.

“The first couple sessions were about statistics and who to ask and how to ask,” Bayer says. “We learned that it is a lengthy, nurturing process.”

Steve Schwartz, a past president of Adat Reyim, got passionate about the program. Using what he learned during the Create a Jewish Legacy sessions, he made a presentation to synagogue board members. And he asked. “He walked away with 12 board members signing up,” Bayer says.

Because the 12 made their commitment before the Nov. 1 starting date for the Life & Legacy challenge, their gifts won’t be counted toward the $5,000 incentive grant, Scher says.

Bayer says they learned not just anyone should do the asking. “The people who ask are the ones who have already made a legacy gift. It makes it so much different when you say, ‘come join us.’ ”

She and others learned that because of changes in giving, an endowment is becoming essential in Jewish institutions. Says Glashofer, “If you don’t have an endowment covering 25 percent of your costs in the next 15-20 years, you’re really in a whole world of trouble.”

[email protected]   Twitter: @davidholzel

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