“Wealth Transfer” is a common term in planned giving. Back in the 1990s, we were talking about wealth transfer from, as Tom Brokaw wrote about, “The Greatest Generation” – those who experienced World War II to Baby Boomers, the post WWII generation (born between 1946 and 1964). Over the years, the amount of the wealth transfer has been growing.
Just 5 years ago, the amount for the following 20 years, through 2025, was $41 trillion. With Baby Boomers joining The Greatest Generation and others in retirement in greater numbers each year, the amount of wealth transfer has skyrocketed. And as life expectancy increases, so does the span of years of the wealth transfer. From 1998 through 2052 for people 55 and older, experts predict the wealth transfer will be $58.1 trillion.
And without the recession in 2008-2009, those numbers would be more than $72 trillion!!
Merrill Lynch just completed a study about retirees, their philanthropy and charitable involvement. While retirees account for less than 1/3 of the adult population in the United States age 25 and older, they contribute 42% of all funds to charitable organizations and provide 45% of the total volunteer hours.
It is important to note that the Merrill Lynch survey determined that the two major reasons why retirees are involved with religious and not-for-profit organizations is to make a difference in the lives of others as well as for meaning and purpose in their own lives.
And this study projects that during the next 20 years, baby boomers will be making more than $6 trillion in charitable contributions and donate about $1.6 trillion worth of volunteer hours.
One more interesting statistic. While baby boomers are giving less time and dollars to religious organizations than their parents, they are more inclined to provide financial support to religious organizations than Millennials and Generation Xers.
In recent weeks, “A Call To Action” led to many articles, blogs and discussions about the need for more engagement/programming for teens and college students. I argue that these two studies about Baby Boomers, and so many more that are out there, make the case as to why synagogues must also engage the continually growing cohort of retirees.
Of course it isn’t just about money.
Many congregations offer a reduced rate to older congregants for dues/annual commitments. I am not sure in light of what we know about the finances of retirees that this is the best approach. But without a defined strategy to engage, which is often limited to an educational/cultural program one day a week and maybe a ridesharing program on Shabbat, is it even fair to have an expectation for this cohort to contribute more annually?
How can we engage? Chavurot, Torah study groups and book groups are just a few ideas. Study trips to Israel, New York, and other Jewish communities with historical significance are some other ideas that come to mind. We speak so often about the need for lifelong learning. Here is a group with time and a desire to be busy and to continue to learn and engage their minds.
Retirees remaining involved in synagogue life will lead to their continued financial support of the synagogue annually through dues/annual commitments. And many will have the capacity to make a substantive gift to special campaigns as well. But if people are not engaged, it is likely that the synagogue will no longer be a central focus of their lives.