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A Philanthropist Helps Small Donors Win Bequests

By Raymund Flandez, Staff Writer, Chronicle of Philanthropy

Camp B'nai B'rith, in Beaverton, Ore., got training in how to create this bequest brochure from a program started by a Jewish philanthropist. Campers in Wisconsin will also benefit from the same program, which has already attracted 100 bequest pledges.
Harold Grinspoon is a generous donor to Jewish causes, but he also wants other people to give money to causes he cares about. So he's spreading an idea devised by the Jewish Community Foundation San Diego to help small charities seek bequests and other types of planned gifts.

Four years ago, his foundation created a program to help Jewish camps learn to ask their supporters to leave them money in their wills. The foundation put up money for training and coaching and offered matching funds that camps could use to encourage donors to step up.

Perhaps most important, it helped fundraisers, executive directors, and others learn to talk about bequests in a positive, life-affirming way, rather than relying on the cold estate-planning tactics some organizations use.

The results have already been impressive. Forty-one Jewish camps from all over the country have secured more than $60-million worth of bequest pledges from 2,300 donors. Most commitments are relatively small; the biggest donation so far has been $250,000.

Bucking the Trend

Many Jewish camps and other small to medium-size charities spend little time seeking bequests.

Such appeals take a fair amount of work because of the tax and legal expertise required. What's more, the payoff often doesn't come for decades. Mr. Grinspoon hopes to give charities the tools they need to make it easy and to reward those who succeed with money they can use right away.

The foundation pays for camps to send their fundraisers and board members to free "legacy giving" training workshops. Then it links camp leaders with experienced fundraisers and charity executives to provide them with free advice all year long.

If the camps meet certain goals for the number of bequest pledges they garner in a year, they receive up to $25,000 from the institute. And the lure of getting extra cash helps them spur donors to meet deadlines for promising a bequest.

'Vision and Values'

As Mr. Grinspoon looked for the best ways to help charities solicit bequests, he turned to ideas he knew had worked at the San Diego fund.

While many charities try to appeal to lots of donors to make bequests, San Diego makes pitches only to the donors it considers most likely to give.

And instead of trying to serve as a donor's financial adviser, as many charities do when they promote the value of a bequest in an estate plan, the San Diego fund steers them to their own financial planners.

So, too, do the camps, which concentrate on the emotional appeal of giving, emphasizing that donors will be leaving their own legacy and making a difference to the camp's present and future.

"It's not about death," says David Sharken, who runs the Camp Legacy Initiative program at the Grinspoon Institute for Jewish Philanthropy. "It's about vision and values. It's not about complicated tax plans."

The Grinspoon Institute works with the camps for three years to make sure they are comfortable seeking bequests. It then continues to make grants of $1,000 annually to each camp that shows it is continuing to reach out to the people who have promised money in their wills.

That's an important consideration, because many of the donors who make pledges could live for many more decades and change where they want their money to go.

"Getting the legacy pledge is really only the first step," says Mr. Sharken.

To keep donors excited about their bequests, many camps create a "legacy society" to acknowledge people who have made commitments, putting donors' names on plaques and in programs distributed at galas and other fundraising events.

The training program also encourages camps to send birthday cards and personal notes on special occasions.

'A Sense of Urgency'

At Camp Ramah, in Conover, Wis., "estate planning stayed on the back burner," says Linda Hoffenberg, the charity's director of institutional advancement and its only full-time fundraiser.

Four years ago, however, all that changed when it participated in the first training program run by the Grinspoon Institute.

Camp Ramah's representatives learned how to create print materials to share with alumni of the camp and other potential supporters, establish an endowment so donations won't get mingled with the organization's general operating funds, and plan how to achieve the annual goals that would get them the Grinspoon grants.

Since it first received training, the camp has won 100 commitments from donors. The donors' pledges are estimated to be worth $5-million.

Camp Ramah is working to keep bequest donors involved with the camp throughout their lives.

Twice a year, the camp sends a newsletter to 5,000 people. Each edition features a profile of an individual or family who has promised a bequest.

"It's just a reinforcement and a reminder to people that Camp Ramah really needs their help in this way," says Ms. Hoffenberg.

In addition, the camp has used part of the money it received from Grinspoon to make a fundraising video that emphasizes the idea that "anybody can be a philanthropist," Ms. Hoffenberg says.

Camp Ramah is now setting a goal of attracting 18 new bequest commitments this year.

"I would like to think that the person who has my job 25 years from now will have an easier job," Ms. Hoffenberg says. "If the endowment does grow with all of these gifts a generation from now, that would help us provide a high-quality program and scholarships. And we wouldn't have to work so hard to raise the money to keep the camp innovative and vibrant."

(Article reprinted with permission from the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Article can be found at http://philanthropy.com/article/Learning-a-New-Camping-Skill-/131696/)