The Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford is inviting community members to rethink their philanthropic approach and create a joyous journey of charitable giving with family and friends through Celebration Funds. Celebration Funds use giving vehicles, including donor-advised funds, to attach giving to positive life milestones. Giving Compass spoke to Kathryn Gonnerman, vice president of philanthropy at the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford, to learn about Celebration Funds and how donors engage in this model of giving. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Q: How do Celebration Funds help individuals and communities embrace their values and the joy of giving during important life events?  

Celebration Funds are about incorporating the joy of charitable giving into every phase of our lives, whether weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, or retirements. Sometimes, we think about philanthropy around memorial funds. But why wait until only those moments? People can use life’s special moments to celebrate their values and support their favorite causes with loved ones gathered around them.

Q: How can this type of fund support long-term giving practices and the idea that pooled resources can have more impact?

Celebration Funds are more than a one-time gift - they start where most giving stops. Usually, when you give in honor of someone else, it is one transaction and you say, “I love the Red Cross. Give to the Red Cross on my behalf.”  And that's the end of the transaction.

A Celebration Fund is a gift that keeps on giving. The fund allows people to share in your ongoing journey of philanthropy. Let's say you start a fund for a couple’s wedding; lots of people give gifts of money to it. It's a beautiful thing, and then that couple can develop their philanthropic purpose together and decide what causes are most important to them.

Maybe someday they will engage their kids and other family members in recommending grants from their fund to organizations. One day they can look back and say, "Look at all those people who gave to our Celebration Fund to start us on our way.”  

Q: Can you share an example of one Celebration Fund from your community?

Steve and Debbie Kleinman at their wedding

One of my favorite examples is a couple who got married a little bit later in life. They didn't need the Crock-Pot or the juicer, so they started a fund. Last year, they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary and the joy of giving for 25 years! They give to the fund every year on their anniversary in recognition of one another, and family and friends also give to the fund. As a result, the couple has recommended grants out of the fund to their favorite organizations while exploring and evolving their values.

Q: How can Celebration Funds strengthen family ties? 

I love facilitating conversations with families about their philanthropic interests. I ask questions and see family members – who know each other well – be surprised by what their relatives are saying. These meetings can spark inspirational conversations as family members find out what values and causes matter most to them before they open a Celebration Fund together. 

Q: What are the core components of Celebration Funds that could be used as a model for similar efforts? 

Staff at the Jewish Community Foundation work together with individuals to figure out what kind of fund structure works best for their philanthropic goals. A typical Donor Advised Fund can be a Celebration Fund. The key for Celebration Funds is inviting family and friends to join you in your philanthropic journey. It's about thinking how to deepen the celebration of a life milestone through philanthropy, and how to engage others in that exciting exploration of values. If you start with those ideas, you’ll create a Celebration Fund and charitable giving traditions that last a lifetime and beyond.