Jewish Foundation Achieves Multiple Milestones in First Two Years
By Tonyia Cone
A hallmark of a well established Jewish community in the United States is a Jewish Foundation, a community’s planned giving and endowment development center.
The September 2014 launch of the Jewish Foundation of Austin & Central Texas reflected the area’s rapid Jewish growth, and just after its first year, recently announced another major milestone – the signing of its first partner agency, Congregation Beth Israel.
A branch of Shalom Austin, the Jewish Foundation’s mission is to help sustain a vibrant and secure Jewish community, now and for future generations.
The Jewish Foundation is also a family of funds at the Austin Community Foundation. Founded in 1977, ACF serves as a back office; it holds and administers the Jewish Foundation’s funds while the Jewish Foundation and its cabinet members provide donor education and raise the community’s awareness of the foundation.
Wade Monroe, the Jewish Foundation Cabinet co-chair and a member of the Jewish Foundation’s founding cabinet, explained that working in partnership with ACF enables the Jewish Foundation to take advantage of the investment skills, knowledge and process of a well established foundation with $150 million in assets, rather than fumble through the mistakes of a startup foundation.
Diane Radin, the Jewish Foundation Cabinet co-chair, said, “We're the friendly Jewish face of the foundation.”
Arlene Miller, Shalom Austin’s chief philanthropy officer, explained that the Jewish Foundation gives Austin Jewish community member the opportunity to make their philanthropic contributions in the name of the Jewish community.
Radin explained that this brands individuals’ giving as Jewish giving.
“When you give a gift from our foundation, it says, for instance, ‘The Charles and Diane Radin Fund of the Jewish Foundation of Austin & Central Texas,’” she said. “It doesn't really matter when I give to the synagogue or to the annual Federation campaign. They know I'm Jewish and I'm giving to a Jewish organization. But when I give to a non-Jewish entity, it says Jews are giving to support our community. I think that's a big deal.”
The Jewish Foundation’s donor advised funds simplify the administrative side of philanthropy for donors; engage donors in giving; and expose donors to other types of giving, like bequests or an endowed fund.
Miller said, “Donor advised funds are an incredible way to engage families because parents can include their children as advisors on the fund, and they can actively sit around the table and make decisions about the family's philanthropy on an annual basis.”
An added benefit of the Jewish Foundation’s donor advised funds is that contributions are tax deductable and a great way for philanthropists to manage annual giving.
Monroe explained, “If you have a great year one year or a company is sold and you have a big one-time bonus and for tax purposes you need the tax deduction, you can set up a donor advised fund, then spread [giving] out over next 10 to 20 years.”
The Jewish Foundation’s assets total about $3.6 million. In 2015 alone, the foundation took in more than $1.7 million in contributions, making the Jewish Foundation the fastest growing piece of the Austin Community Foundation.
Since the Jewish Foundation was founded, several funds moved to the foundation from the Austin Community Foundation, the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation, the Houston Jewish Community Foundation, and commercial firms.
The Jewish Foundation is led by a 20-member cabinet, representing a diversity of ages, synagogue affiliations, other agency affiliations, and professional backgrounds.
Miller explained the Cabinet consists of estate planners, lawyers, insurance brokers, a past executive director of the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation, financial advisors, major philanthropists and a past member of the ACF board of directors.
One of the Jewish Foundation’s first goals was to sign on an Austin Jewish organization as a partner agency.
“We were thrilled when Congregation Beth Israel – through a lot of conversations, and we've been in conversation with every other agency in Austin, but they were the first to move forward – established a series of funds with us that met the $100,000 minimum requirement,” Miller said.
As a partner agency, CBI was able to make a recommendation to the Jewish Foundation’s nominating committee to have a representative on the Jewish Foundation Cabinet. CBI recommended Gary Solka, who is now a Jewish Foundation Cabinet member.
Radin explained that Solka had served on the Federation board before.
“He was wearing several hats, which made him very aware of how important this was,” Radin said.
Solka said, “CBI becoming a founding partner with the Jewish Foundation is a great fit because of our shared goals, the first being to promote Jewish philanthropy in Austin, and second, to help secure a solid future for Jewish organizations in Austin.”
“The Jewish Foundation is important to me because it allows Jews to fulfill one of the foundations of our religion – tzedakah. As helpful and necessary tzedakah is for the person receiving it, I’ve always viewed tzedakah as a great help and fulfillment to the giver. Giving feels good and makes a person complete,” he added.
CBI’s executive director, Jennifer Smith, and president, Michael Seay, were instrumental in making the partnership happen, explained Miller.
Smith said the partnership benefits the congregation because they know the funds are in good hands and are being managed properly.
“In terms of the dollars, it’s just comforting to have someone with much respect in the community taking care of it,” she said, adding that having Solka on the cabinet helps shape what giving looks like in Austin.
“He’s working with them to try to help us get legacy giving in our congregation and have more of a culture of giving here. Having him be a part of that and keeping up to date with all the new things they’re doing and new opportunities and their resources, for us to be able to bring that to our congregation, is the other benefit,” she said.
Seay explained that congregants who understand the partnership are really happy about the connection with organizations on the Dell Jewish Community Campus.
“It’s nice that we have a lot of different choices of synagogues in town. Some things, there is no right way to do it, where everybody needs to do it different, and the community is stronger because all of our temples are different,” Seay said.
“But then there are other things where there’s probably a best way to do it, and it’s nice to have the Jewish Foundation there to take charge and figure out best practices. If one group comes up with a good idea that’s clearly the best move, then that information can be shared and everybody gets stronger because of it,” he added.
Moving forward, Radin explained that the Jewish Foundation will focus on more educational opportunities for the community and financial professionals, like a 2015 event co-sponsored by the Jewish Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin’s Women’s Division, where Rabbi Steven Leder from Los Angeles’ Wilshire Boulevard Temple led a workshop about writing an ethical will.
Miller, who is set to leave the Jewish Foundation in early June in order to serve as CEO of the Jewish Federation and Family Services of Orange County in Irvine, California, but expects there to be nothing but growth in the Jewish Foundation’s future, especially as CBI paves the way for more partner agencies.
“It's for the entire community,” Miller said. “We will help lead the way so that everybody can secure their future and ensure that they have endowments in place to have dollars to count on.”
For more information about the Jewish Foundation of Austin and Central Texas, call 512-735-8010 or visit www.shalomaustin.org/foundation.