“If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get”

You probably have heard this story before.

Lew Levine was a pillar of the Jewish and general community where he lived. He served in the Army during World War II. After the war, he took advantage of the GI Bill to study finance and marketing at a well-known university. Then he started in sales at a small company he founded with two other friends that provided business services. Along the way, he received his MBA. And the company grew to become a Fortune 500 company with thousands of companies across the country utilizing Lew’s company’s growing products.

Lew and his wife Liz were also very active as both contributors and board members for a number of organizations. Jewish Federation, JCC, American Jewish Committee, the local art museum and with various local organizations within their town-Lew and Liz were very community oriented. Israel always had a special place in Lew’s heart and he made significant contributions – 6 and 7 figures – to a number Israeli universities and hospitals.

As long as they lived in the community, Lew and Liz had been members of Temple ABC. Their 3 children had gone to its Hebrew School and had their Bar/Bat Mitzvahs there. Lew and Liz were always there at the High Holy Days, and perhaps a few other times during the year when they had a Yahrzeit.

Liz had passed away in 2005, and Lew a couple of years later. A few months after Lew’s death, the attorney for the estate had the pleasure of calling – and later writing an official letter – the Federation, JCC, American Jewish Committee, a couple of Israeli Universities, and a few community groups to let them know that Lew – and Liz – had left them each $1 million. The lawyer also had the pleasure of calling Rabbi Cohen at the synagogue to let him know that Lew and Liz had left Temple ABC $100,000.

It is a small community and people talk. The rabbi learned over the course of the next few days that the other organizations had been the recipients of much larger bequests than the temple. Rabbi Cohen knew Lew and Liz’s children so he asked Jacob, one their sons, why his parents had left the other organizations a much larger gifts than the bequest they had left the synagogue. Jacob simply responded “because each of those organizations made a special request of my parents to provide funds in perpetuity after their passing”.

Rabbi Cohen had a wonderful relationship with Lew and Liz. The issue here is that no one from the temple ever asked Lew and Liz for such a special gift.

People like Lew and Liz are asked for money for very worthy causes all of the time. Planned giving officers are tasked with asking the Lew and Lizs of all of our communities- and others – to name the particular organization in their wills. The Federation and the Community Art Museum need to replace Lew and Liz’s annual gifts of $100,000. A bequest of $1 million takes care of half of it, anyway.

The important thing here is not to be afraid to ask people like Lew and Liz, who have been members of their temple for decades. The temple has played an important role in their lives. Temple leaders shouldn’t hesitate to ask Lew and Liz – and people like them at your synagogue – to help the synagogue in this special way.

And this is not just about asking the richest people who belong to your synagogue. Anyone who has been a long time member – 20 years and more – of your congregation is a prospect for a bequest.

All you need is a program to make this happen.


8 Comments on ““If You Don’t Ask, You Don’t Get”

  1. I could not agree more with this- giving people an opportunity to provide for an institution they loved after their death is an important mitzvah one can do for that person. It provides additional meaning for their lives to know that they have been able to provide for the continuation of their synagogue and the Jewish people.

  2. Thank you very much for this article. With the benefit of your generous advice, our temple intiated a bequest program about two years ago. When the program was introduced we were encouraged by a few people who immediately offered to participate. Since that time, we have had no additional participants. We promote the program in our bulletin and at congragational meetings, and we will begin approaching individuals soon. Our experience has been that there is a cultural bias against bequests and we have been gradually trying to change that attitude to bring about greater acceptance of the concept. If you can offer any further advice, it would be appreciated.

    • Steve,

      Thanks for your comments and questions. What I have learned about bequests, or any planned gift, is that often it takes time and many asks. A member of the board of a national organization attended several planned giving workshops over a couple of years and received various mailings – too many to count! Then he decided he was ready to make a very major planned gift. The same is true for bequests. Often it could be the illness or death of a family member or friend that is the impetus to take the action of changing a will to name the synagogue as a beneficiary.

      Is there a way that you are recognizing congregants who do this? Getting the first handful of people to do this and publicizing it in a tasteful will be the best way to change everyone’s outlook.

      Please feel free to call me at 973-477-6424 or email me at david@synagoguestrategies.com should you have any additional questions or if I can be of help in any other way.



    • Hi Sharon,

      Thanks for your questions. I will send you some information via a direct email that should be helpful to you.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.