Photo courtesy of Queens College.

FJC Donor Expands Opportunity at Queens College

A Korean-American woman majors in History, Political Science, and Anthropology and spends her summer volunteering to rebuild Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.  A Colombian man lives with his grandmother, following his mother’s deportation, while studying to become a journalist.  A first generation Chinese-American college student serves as President of the Chemistry Honor Society, where he tutors other students who struggle with chemistry.

What do these students have in common?  They are among the seven Queens College students that received financial support from Queens College alumni, as part of the Phi Epsilon Pi Endowed Fund.  One of this group of Queens College alumni is Robert Jacobs who actively uses FJC to support his philanthropic efforts.

In November 2018, Mr. Jacobs had an epiphany. By chance, he read a newspaper article about former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s generous donation to Johns Hopkins University—a gift ensuring that no accepted student would be unable to attend because of financial circumstances. In that moment, Jacobs knew that his time had come to make a difference at his alma mater, Queens College. Within a month, he established a scholarship to benefit students of academic merit who need financial assistance. 

Jacobs knew that his time had come to make a difference at his alma mater, Queens College. Within a month, he established a scholarship to benefit students of academic merit who need financial assistance. 

But that was just the beginning. After receiving touching letters of appreciation from his scholarship recipients, Jacobs shared the notes with his fraternity brothers and planted the idea of doing something greater. During a biannual Phi Epsilon Pi dinner, he proposed starting an endowment at the college. This was a chance for this group of friends to leave a legacy and to assist students for many years to come.

“All of us have forgotten whatever we learned in Contemporary Civilization, but we have not forgotten the opportunity that Queens College provided a bunch of poor, hardworking, smart kids from the five boroughs and Nassau and Suffolk Counties,” Jacobs says. “Queens College gave us a chance to succeed in ways that our parents, as products of the Depression and as second-generation Americans, could have only dreamt about.”

“Queens College gave us a chance to succeed in ways that our parents, as products of the Depression and as second-generation Americans, could have only dreamt about.”

With the help of 26 fraternity brothers and more participating each month, the Phi Epsilon Pi Endowed Fund has raised over $176,000 and continues to grow with consistent gifts from the fraternity brothers.  It has given them the opportunity to further the bond that was initiated so many years ago.. To date, the endowment has funded seven student scholarships over the past two years and it is expected that it will fund another two this year , and the funders are adding a mentoring component to the program.  Further, it has inspired a fellow fraternity to establish its own fund in support of student scholarships.

The demographics of Queens College are quite different from the institution they attended fifty years ago.  When Mr. Jacobs graduated in 1970, white students made up the vast majority of students at the school. Today, students of color represent nearly three-quarters of the student population, and nearly one-third are foreign born.  Another major change is tuition.  As part of the City University of New York system, Queens College began charging tuition since the mid- 1970’s.  While tuition of approximately $7,000 a year for a full-time undergraduate degree is quite modest compared with private colleges, it is still a hardship for many students.  Almost half of Queens College students come from households earning less than $30,000 per year. 

While the demographics are different, Jacobs and his fraternity brothers would rather focus on their similarities.  “They’re just like we were.  They’re strivers,” Jacobs states.  “None of my college friends were born with a silver spoon.” He also notes that public education was the foundation for his successful career, which included being a partner at Ernst & Young and now managing his own healthcare consulting practice.  “How can we not give back when we paid $46 a term?”

With their philanthropy, Jacobs and his peers are having a major impact on today’s Queens College students like Joss Montano.  The scholarship, Montano writes, “…guarantees that I will continue my education, a possibility I would be unsure of without the assistance it provides me. It is a nod at what I have been working toward, and an affirmation that the sacrifices my family has made for me to get an education, have been worth it.”

Portions of this article appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of Queens College magazine and appear courtesy of Jennifer Beiner and the Queens College Office of Institutional Advancement.

Adhikaar is one of eight outstanding immigrant-serving organizations in NYC selected through an RFP process. Photo courtesy of www.facebook.com/adhikaar

FJC Donor Selects Outstanding Immigrant-Serving Nonprofits Through RFP

Last year, a donor at FJC decided she wanted to focus on a new program area: immigrant-serving nonprofits in New York City.  But where to start?  In consultation with the donor, FJC issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to several community-based organizations throughout the five boroughs.  The result: eight outstanding nonprofit organizations received grants of approximately $20,000. 

The process began with the donor’s clear commitment to addressing urgent issues facing immigrant communities during these unprecedented pandemic times.  The donor also decided that while New York City is home to robust citywide membership organizations and coalitions, the donor’s preference was to provide grants directly to organizations doing work “on the ground” in neighborhoods.  Following a consultation with staff at the NYC Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs, the RFP was written to solicit proposals about a broad range social services, including food security and legal services. 

Within weeks, FJC received the responses to the RFP and the donor was able to evaluate the proposals and recommend eight grants.  As with any donor recommendation, FJC’s board approved the grants and staff facilitated the grant disbursements from the donor’s DAF account.

The eight organizations funded are: Adhikaar, African Communities Together, La Colmena, COPO, MASA, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, Project Hospitality, and Sauti Yetu.

FJC was able to offer the donor expertise about designing and distributing the opportunity to a targeted subset of nonprofits that aligned with her commitment.    Furthermore, reviewing the RFP responses provided the donor nuanced insights to a range of issues facing immigrant communities across New York City, including food security, mental health, and the importance of targeted cash assistance.  “There was a mix of very particular concerns and issues that were cross-cutting across the various organizations,” said a representative of the donor, who wishes to remain anonymous.

The RFP process was also designed not to overburden the applicant organizations.  “So many organizations are struggling right now,” said the donor. “We wanted to make the process of applying as easy as possible.”  The RFP requested materials that nonprofit organizations typically have readily prepared: a budget and a two-page narrative about communities being served, the organization’s goals for the grant resources, and how they measure impact. 

“The RFP was very timely,” said Aakriti Khanal, Development and Research Coordinator for Adhikaar, a Queens-based social justice organization serving the Nepali-speaking community.  “We appreciated how straightforward the process was and how flexible these grant resources are, so we can be creative in responding to the urgent needs of our members during the pandemic,” citing the need to shift services and English empowerment classes online.  She also noted that immigrant-serving organizations like Adhikaar anticipate a more favorable policy environment on issues facing immigrant communities in the years to come.  “Now is the time that real change can happen,” she said.

FJC welcomes donors that are interested, individually or jointly, in selecting multiple organizations for grant support of $15,000 or more through RFPs.  FJC can work with interested donors to design and distribute the RFP, collect the responses, and process the grant recommendations once the donor selects the organizations.  Please contact CEO Sam Marks to get started

Photo by André François McKenzie on Unsplash

FJC Accepts Its First Donation of Cryptocurrency

In December, 2020 FJC accepted its first ever donation of Bitcoin, liquidating the asset through a leading Bitcoin exchange to generate over $56,000 in philanthropic resources for a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) account. 

The donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, was an early adopter of Bitcoin, having invested in the cryptocurrency in 2017.  A sophisticated investor who works in financial services, the donor was inspired to purchase his first Bitcoin for his family’s own investment portfolio after attending an industry conference. “At that early stage of the currency’s life cycle, I had to send a check to a post office box in California,” he recalls.  “It was a leap of faith.”  As the currency has matured and gained wider acceptance with institutional investors, including insurance companies, endowments and family offices, the donor has continued to maintain Bitcoin as part of his family’s overall investment portfolio.    

For Bitcoin enthusiasts who have benefitted from the increase in the currency’s value in recent years, the tax benefits for donating Bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies held for a year may be similar to appreciated stock.  (FJC does not give tax advice, so please consult your tax advisor).  This particular donor noted that following his year-end donation of Bitcoin to FJC in anticipation of the tax deduction, he purchased Bitcoin again in the new year in order to maintain the Bitcoin position in his portfolio.    

Upon donation, FJC worked with NYDIG, a leading financial services firm dedicated to Bitcoin, to exchange the currency for US dollars.  The donor expects to increase grantmaking from his family’s DAF to a variety of entrepreneurial organizations, with a focus on strengthening Jewish communal life and promoting deeper civic engagement in the United States.

“We hope this donation will be the first of many,” said Regina Rodriguez, FJC’s Chief Finance & Investment Officer. “We appreciate donors that come to us with ideas that push us into new territory.”

Stock IPO Pays Philanthropic Dividends

On August 26, 2020, at 9:30 AM, the Nasdaq opening bell rang out in traditional fashion to announce the start of trading for the day. For FJC donor John Herzog, however, the ringing of the bells indicated something particularly meaningful: a more robust and active phase of his philanthropy with FJC.

On this morning, the ceremonial bell-ringing duties were being performed by Mr. Herzog’s colleague and friend Mr. Ronny Yakov to commemorate the public offering of The OLB Group, Inc., an e-commerce company for which Mr. Yakov acts as Chief Executive Officer. OLB operates in the FinTech space specializing in payment processing solutions. The firm, based in New York City and founded in 1993 initially to provide creative and marketing services to larger companies, has pivoted over time towards e-commerce, and now offers a suite of private-label services that includes business management and crowdfunding platforms, along with their proprietary payment gateway. In addition to being a longtime investor in the company, Mr. Herzog also sits on the firm’s advisory board, and he witnessed first-hand the growth and maturation of The OLB Group in recent years.

Mr. Herzog had generously donated shares in The OLB Group to his account at FJC in 2019, in anticipation of this public offering. He had experienced success working with FJC in the past on similar transactions, and he reached out to see how FJC’s services could be leveraged to help convert this financial opportunity into philanthropy. By first donating the shares to FJC and then selling them, the capital gains taxes that would normally be applicable to an individual selling the stock would be foregone (due to FJC’s tax-exempt status), meaning the money saved in taxes could be utilized for philanthropic purposes. At the time of the donation, The OLB Group’s stock was still traded on the OTC markets, and the thinness of trading volume meant that it would be incumbent upon FJC to hold the stock until such a time when liquidating the shares would be feasible. This customized transaction required approval of FJC’s Investment Committee, which also considered the appropriate pace at which FJC would liquidate the stock.

Mr. Herzog has a long and active history supporting the nonprofit sector with his philanthropy. In 1988 he founded the Museum of American Finance, a 501(c)(3) organization in downtown NYC dedicated to educating the public about the history and impact of finance through exhibits and public events. The Museum, established as a response to the market crash of 1987, houses collections that span from U.S. Treasury bonds issued in the 18th century, to Depression-era scrip, to personal correspondence of influential persons such as Benjamin Graham (author of the seminal The Intelligent Investor). Virtual events featuring expert panelists on finance and financial history have also been added to the programming. Mr. Herzog himself has long been involved in the finance industry, and was formerly CEO of Herzog Heine Geduld, Inc., a leading market maker which was purchased by Merrill Lynch in 2000. By coupling his own charitable instincts with FJC’s expertise, Mr. Herzog will be able to roll a portion of his interest in The OLB Group into material financial support for both the Museum and other non-profit organizations.

“It has been a great experience working with FJC on this stock donation,” says Mr. Herzog. “FJC was patient while we sorted through the IPO process and the subsequent lock up period, and their flexibility is allowing me to be especially charitable from my account now that the stock is liquid.”

Photo courtesy of Brighter Tomorrows

FJC Facilitates Donor Loan to Support Families Facing Domestic Violence

It took the collective efforts of a number of people to get it done: a committed donor, a philanthropic advisor, and the staff at FJC. All parties worked together this spring to close a $100,000 cash flow loan to Brighter Tomorrows, a nonprofit working with victims of domestic violence to provide shelter, counseling and legal advocacy to New York’s Suffolk and Nassau counties as well as New York City and the Tri-State area.

The process began with Sandy Wheeler, a longtime donor to Brighter Tomorrows. Over time, Ms. Wheeler developed a trusted relationship with Dolores Kordon, the organization’s Executive Director, who often lamented the difficulties she faced running an organization that relied heavily on state contracts that were typically slow to pay. “It seemed like the chronic cash flow challenges of Brighter Tomorrow could be creatively addressed with philanthropy,” said Ms. Wheeler.

The Wheelers spoke to their philanthropic advisor at a large financial institution, who made the introduction to FJC. “The Wheelers already had a Donor Advised Fund account, but the sponsor wasn’t really set up to originate loans,” their advisor explained. “We appreciated that FJC had the track record and infrastructure to make this proposed loan happen, and quickly.”

Within a few weeks, staff at FJC worked with the Wheelers to open and fund a new DAF account, review Brighter Tomorrow’s financials, and prepare the legal documents with terms customized according to the Wheelers’ wishes. Among other features, the loan carries no interest.

“Brighter Tomorrows is so grateful for this intervention by FJC and the Wheelers,” says Ms. Kordon. “Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when cash was tight due to many competing programmatic demands, having the Wheeler’s loan to bridge our day-to-day expenses provided us the flexibility to be responsive to the families we were serving, like distributing food cards and helping clients pay rent.”

Photo credit: Ken Teerer, courtesy of SELC

2019 Year in Review: Revolving Funds for Legal Impact

Imaginative FJC donors have created specialized accounts that allow for revolving funds for recoverable expenses, so that nonprofits can recycle grant funds on an ongoing basis.

In 2019 organizations focused on criminal justice reform and impact litigation were particularly active users of these resources, putting nearly $1 million in aggregate to work for their missions. These organizations included: the Government Accountability Project, was able to represent whistleblowers exposing abuses of public trust throughout the federal government as well as corporate employees within the banking, energy, food, and health care industries; the New York Civil Liberties Union, is bringing an important voting rights case to challenge violations of the federal Voting Rights Act; the Southern Environmental Law Center, which has reached a settlement with a private company that will result in the largest coal ash cleanup ever in America; Brooklyn Community Bail Fund secured the freedom of 23 immigrants held in ICE detention and at imminent risk of deportation, and reunited them with their families and communities.

Private Home Transforms Public Library

FJC is home to imaginative donors that seek to go beyond donations of cash or appreciated securities to their Donor Advised Fund accounts. Take for example Georgette Bennett and Leonard Polonsky, whose family fund worked with FJC to transform a residential property in Aspen, Colorado into a portion of their $12 million grant to the New York Public Library. The family donated the Aspen property to FJC, which then sold the real estate, generating the proceeds that covered a portion of the grant. The grant to the Library in 2019 will support the creation of Polonsky Treasures Exhibition, a permanent display of rotating items from its extensive research collections, including an original copy of The Declaration of Independence, Christopher Columbus’ letter to King Ferdinand II advising him of his discovery in the New World, The Gutenberg Bible, and original sheet music from Beethoven and Mozart.

“FJC was completely supportive, cooperative and responsive throughout the complex process,” says Ms. Bennett. “We’re grateful that the team at FJC made it so easy for us.”