90 Is The New 75!!

The fact is that we are living longer.

Exercise. Diet. Medical Science. All are contributing factors to many of us living beyond the lifespan that was expected when we were born.  People are working longer.  The discussion about possible changes in Social Security also amplifies this fact.

This certainly has implications for synagogue membership. Baby boomers – people born between 1946 and 1964 – remain the wealthiest, most active, and most physically fit generation. Let’s be conservative and say that 1.67 million – 2.2% – of the 77 million baby boomers are Jewish. Holding on and engaging this experienced age cohort will not only have an impact on synagogue membership, but can also have a serious impact on the long term growth of synagogue endowment funds through a bequest program.

Of course, growing older is not without challenges.  Alzheimer’s is certainly a disease that has impacted so many families, including mine.

My coach Rabbi Richard Address speaks and writes a great deal about the social and emotional challenges of Sacred Jewish Aging and how synagogues can help all of us cope with this stuff.

Today I want to write about the positive financial impact that can happen by continuing to engage congregants as they age.

A few months ago, I attended a planned giving seminar sponsored by The Sharpe Group and learned some interesting information:

-Of every 100 people born in the United States, 50 will die before age 80, and 50 will live to 80 and beyond.

-65% of all Americans do not have wills. And 55% of all Americans will die without a will.

-In 2009, the average age for someone who had passed away and left a bequest to a not-for-profit/religious organization was 92 (according to the IRS).


We don’t like to think about death. This is probably why the data on those having wills is not higher. For those who do have wills, we hope that our first will not be our last one.

The first will happens when people have children. The second often happens when children reach 18. The third will happens around the time of retirement.  And there is often a fourth will at the time an elderly spouse dies.

The average age of a person’s last and final will is 84.

Why will congregants name their synagogue as a beneficiary in their will?  Hopefully, the synagogue has had an impact on their life: their children went to Hebrew School – made it through without hating it too much – and were called to Torah for the first time at their Bar/Bat Mitzvah at that synagogue. The rabbi and the entire synagogue community were there to comfort them when their parents passed away.

Their children now grown, the synagogue has remained a focal point of their lives in terms of adult education, Shabbat Worship and community celebrations and events.  They have bought plots in the synagogue’s cemetery.

“Donative intent” is the most important reason why a person will list their synagogue as a beneficiary in their will.  But as critical a reason a congregant will do this is because they were asked.

It is great when a bequest is made that you don’t know about. But this is really leaving all of this to luck. You want to have a program that involves asking, marketing to let people know about the program through the weekly e-newsletter and website, recognition of such present and future generosity, and management of the Endowment Fund. The mechanics of such a program are detailed in Developing Your Future: A Guide to Developing a Planned Giving Program in Your Synagogue.

Such gifts happen with on-going engagement of congregants throughout their lives.

I have also listed below resources from other synagogues that may be helpful to you.

Temple Emanuel-Birmingham, AL

Temple Shaaray Tefila-New York, NY

Rodef Shalom Congregation – Pittsburgh, PA

Temple Isaiah – Lexington, MA



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