My wife Tracey and I loved adventure. We rode motorcycles through Vietnam, sat astride camels in the Sahara Desert and paddled the rapids of Costa Rica’s Pacuare River.
Whether it was Morocco, Mexico or points in between, we were always on the go — even at home in Los Angeles. We always enjoyed seeking out new experiences together and loved uncovering new and interesting things along the way.
Little more than a year ago, Tracey died suddenly at age 32. Her life was short, but her impact was monumental. Since we had been married just a short time and not yet started a family, the notion of perpetuating Tracey’s legacy became paramount. I wanted to create a living memorial that would reflect her zest for life and caring spirit, but I was at a loss as to where to begin.
Both before and during our 18 months of marriage, we made concerted efforts planning for our future. While engaged, we attended a “Making Marriage Work” course together and met regularly with our rabbi leading up to the nuptials. We had retained a financial planner and were saving money to purchase our first home.
In short, we were doing exactly what financially disciplined young married couples are advised. The one issue we hadn’t discussed with professionals was what to do when confronted with an unexpected tragedy such as Tracey’s death at such a young age.
A few days after Tracey passed away, my family and I grappled with the issue of designating a worthy philanthropy for contributions in her name. There is certainly no shortage of causes, but one-time contributions seemed a fleeting, transitory way to memorialize Tracey.
It was during this time that a dear friend suggested that I establish a fund in her memory at the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, which serves as an umbrella organization for individual Jewish donors and family foundations and is just one of several such foundations across the country. I ended up creating a donor-advised fund, which enables me to make charitable gifts by transferring assets to a fund that will earn interest and grow and that gives me the flexibility to recommend future nonprofit recipients and dollar amounts.
These types of funds can be opened with a minimum of $10,000, and friends and family can contribute with no minimum at all. Most significantly, I maintain discretion to fund just about any charitable cause I want.
Before I established a donor-advised fund, I knew I wanted to attach Tracey’s memory to a cause but I didn’t want to be hasty about it. Establishing the fund has given me the opportunity to be methodical about my giving.
After traveling a great deal this past year on my own and with friends, I’ve gained some insights into how the funds can best be distributed. I plan to earmark donations for small, local organizations in four areas that reflect Tracey’s energy, vitality and love of the world around her: charities for people in need, such as battered women, the homeless and disadvantaged children; animal welfare and advocacy; local arts and cultural programs that embody the spirit of Los Angeles, and environmental programs.
I’ve also gained some insight into how giving people can be, when presented with the right opportunity. To date, some 125 individuals and corporations have donated to Tracey’s fund, with contributions ranging from $18 to $4,000.
Many people gave in increments of 18, to symbolize the power of chai, or “life” in Hebrew. Last September, I held a community garage sale with the help of friends and family that raised an additional $3,600 — double chai — and expect the fund will continue to increase in the years to come through additional donations, interest earned and other special events. Total funds have now reached $30,000, and my near-term goal is to hit $50,000.
My experience with Tracey’s fund belies the perception that community foundations are solely for rich people. The success of my donor-advised fund illustrates that you don’t have to be a millionaire to support your philanthropic passion, no matter where you live.
Being able to contribute to such a fund has helped many of our grieving friends and relatives channel their feelings and energy in a positive direction. And because the fund will continue to grow over time, Tracey’s memorial will truly live on.
Brad Copeland is a Los Angeles-based Internet and new-media sales and marketing executive.