Book of Life helps build solid foundation in Manitoba

by John Longhurst, Faith reporter | Feb 11, 2021

An endowment program at the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba has been recognized by an international fundraising organization as an innovative and inspiring idea.

Called the "Book of Life," it was selected as the best fundraising idea out of 11 from the U.S., Mexico, Brazil and Canada, featured Jan. 26 at the Americas edition of "I Wish I Had Thought of That," an online gathering of more than 270 groups from around the world.

The event was sponsored by the Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration, based in London. Its goal is to share fundraising ideas and support fundraising professionals.

The Book of Life, which was started in 1998, is a planned giving program that offers participants a way to leave both a financial and historical legacy to the Jewish community in Manitoba.

When a donor promises to leave a bequest to the foundation, their life stories are inscribed in the Endowment Book of Life, which can be found near the entrance of the Asper Jewish Community Campus and on the foundation’s website.

Since its founding, the Book of Life has raised close to $15 million.

At the SOFII event, the Book of Life was up against fundraising programs that used apps, social media and video games to raise money, including one from the campaign of former U.S. presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg.

It was presented by Kimberly MacKenzie, a charity coach and strategic consultant from Barrie, Ont. She lauded the Book of Life for how it "honours the life of the donor."

Many non-profits, MacKenzie said, are reluctant to talk about bequests with donors because they don’t like to bring up the subject of death. The Jewish Foundation of Manitoba is different because it invites people "to tell the story of their lives... to share what’s important to them."

Paul Nazareth is vice-president for education and development for the Canadian Association of Gift Planners. For him, the Book of Life "is magic."

"It’s something I keep coming back to," he said. "It’s such a perfect balance of heart and head... it’s the Holy Grail of gift planning."

Normally, he said, we only learn about people’s lives in their obituaries — what they did with their lives.

"This is the opposite of an obituary," he said, explaining the Book of Life "tells the accounting of the heart, not the achievement of the head."

For Lauren Hogan, donor development associate at the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, being recognized by SOFII was "thrilling."

"We were up against some high-tech, big and complex fundraising programs," she said. "Being selected really highlighted the importance of storytelling."

"It was nice to see an organization from little Winnipeg come out on top," added foundation chief executive officer John Diamond.

"Like we like to say: we punch above our weight here in the heart of the Prairies. It was nice to be acknowledged by our peers."

For the Jewish community in Winnipeg, the Book of Life is "a powerful tool," he said. "It tells the history of the Jewish community in Manitoba."

It also is rooted in the Judaism’s concept of mitzvah, or doing good deeds. "This is very important for the Jewish community," Diamond said, adding telling life stories is also a way to do mitzvahs for the community.

More than 800 people have signed up to support the foundation through the Book of Life, including ex-Winnipeggers who want to show their gratitude for the city where they got their start.

The foundation uses money from the endowment to support programs that serve the Jewish community through education, arts and culture, health and social services.

It also serves the larger community through grants to organizations such as Agape Table, Harvest Manitoba, Siloam Mission, and Main Street Project.

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The original article can be found here