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Major changes ahead at major Jewish charity

Federations not the only ones seeking to keep donors on board

 
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Sociologist Peter Frumkin, just back from speaking before a Hebrew University conference on philanthropy and public policy in Israel, told The Jewish Standard that the challenges federations are facing are part of a broader social trend: “Disintermediation, removal of the middle man. You see it in financial services” as well as in the charitable world, he noted.

“It’s a huge generational problem,” he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “The old-time donors would give unconditionally to the federations and trust the professional managers to make the decision about the highest and best use of philanthropic funds,” said Frumkin, who is professor of public affairs and director of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

Younger donors, he continued, “want a higher level of engagement,” perhaps serving on an organization’s board. “They also want a sense that they are doing more than just writing checks.”

Community foundations in the secular world are facing the same challenge, he said: “How do you maintain the donor base?”

In the community foundation world, he went on, “there’s been a concerted effort to reinvent the models, making them more centric to the needs of donors.”

He cited the successful Kansas City Community Foundation, which “invented a whole suite of services for donors designed to meet their needs,” as the “poster child for the community foundation world.”

Another universal challenge in the field of philanthropy is that donors want “evidence of impact.” There’s a “heightened sense of attention paid to evaluating results, measuring performance, and reporting on impact.”

This emphasis, he said, “stems from a kind of ethos of investing. You want to have some kind of sense of what the impact and the results [of your investing] are.” But while “the metrics we use to measure financial performance are very precise, the metrics we use to measure philanthropic performance are much less precise.”

It is difficult to measure, for example, whether a donation intended to foster Jewish identity does just that.

A particular challenge for Jewish charities is that younger donors “interpret philanthropy as healing the world,” not necessarily the Jewish world. “Their idea is tikkun olam, helping people and changing the world for the better. They are not so deeply aligned with Israel and Jewish causes” as their elders.

“Now that I’ve been to Israel,” he said in an aside, “I’ve seen the case for [donations to Israel] more clearly. Jewish identity is not exclusively wrapped up in the rituals of the faith. It’s also in this historic identity. You have to have a broad interpretation of what it means to be Jewish and a broader interpretation of what it means to heal the world.”

“The clever federations are reinventing themselves,” said Frumkin. The author of “Strategic Giving” (University of Chicago Press, 2006) — about effective philanthropy and how donors can develop a charitable agenda — he has some suggestions about how to do that.

First, he said, federations should create opportunities to engage and involve donors.

They should “build the tools for evaluation and performance measurement.”

And they should “serve as a vehicle for learning and donor development.”

Those are the three most important things, in Frumkin’s view, that federations can do “to ensure that the next generation of donors remain committed and interested in their work.”

 

More on: Major changes ahead at major Jewish charity

 
 
 

“We want to be an organization that is nimble, responsive, fast, not what people perceive as a federation,” said Alan Scharfstein, president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. His words conjured up contrasting images: a sleek racehorse versus an unwieldy, slow-moving mammoth.

And we all know what happened to the mammoths.

To do its work well in an evolving communal landscape, UJA-NNJ must evolve as well, Scharfstein said. In an interview last month at its Paramus offices, he and federation officials outlined sweeping changes, changes designed, he said, “not only to manage funds but to engage the next generation.”

 
 
 
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Passage to India

Local academic finds Jewish parallels in Hindu university

Dr. Alan Brill of Teaneck faced his students.

The classroom reminded him of British Mandate era buildings in Jerusalem. It obviously had been built in the 1940s, or at least refurbished then. All the desks had inkwells.

Among the students earnestly taking notes were three Buddhist monks from Cambodia wearing orange robes; two Tibetans, one of whom looked like a Sherpa in his yak-wool vest; an Australian Christian dressed like a hippie trying to dress like an Indian, and several Indians dressed in modern clothing. Up front, wearing a traditional long golden coat, was the professor of Hindu religion and philosophy who normally taught this course. He was particularly diligent in his note-taking.

The day’s topic was the Bible.

 

A love story

Cory Booker talks about growing up in Harrington Park, falling in love with Judaism

Often it’s easy to pick out a non-Jewish candidate trawling for Jewish votes.

He’ll show up at a shul wearing a fancy crocheted kippah with his name spelled out along the edge; it’ll be pinned to cover the bald spot precisely. (Really, if you’re going to wear one, you might as well benefit from it, right?)

He’ll throw out Yiddishisms with abandon — mishuganeh here, mensch there, oy, oy everywhere. He’ll talk about getting a bagel with a schmear. (Do you know any Jew who has ever eaten one of those? Me neither.)

In order to show his deep, lifelong sense of connection to the Jewish community, he’ll pander so hard it must make his teeth hurt.

But if you are looking for an actual Judeophile, a non-Jew whose connection to the Jewish world is longstanding, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and clearly real, you would have to direct your gaze in another direction.

 

From the Union to the Union

Rabbi Daniel Freelander of Ridgewood moves from one Reform institution to head another

Rabbi Daniel Freelander of Ridgewood is an avuncular, charming, modest man. To talk to him is to feel entirely at ease.

And then you realize that you are talking to someone who has been instrumental in the development of liberal Judaism — in both the way it looks and operates, and even more profoundly in the way it sounds.

Rabbi Freelander, 62, is leaving his comfortable berth as senior vice president at the Union for Reform Judaism — the organization for which he has worked in various capacities for 39 years — to become president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. In some ways the move is minor — the two organizations share a floor in a midtown Manhattan office building, and Rabbi Freelander is keeping his office. But in other ways it is huge — his responsibilities go from national to international, and from the Reform movement to the larger liberal world, of which Reform Judaism is a significant — but not the only — stream.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Retelling Genesis

Okay. Let’s start with full disclosure.

I’ve never met Barry Louis Polisar, so it’s nothing personal. But his music for children — he says now that he’s been told that he’s a pioneer in the “kindie” movement (that’s indie music for kids) — was a huge part of our lives, back when my kids and the world and I were young.

Mr. Polisar is based in Maryland, but he sometimes played here; he’d do the occasional early-Sunday-morning live show at WFDU, at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, and we’d all go to see him. We first heard about him on Kids America, an extraordinary (and therefore short-lived) children’s public radio show aired on WNYC, where such classics as “I’ve Got A Teacher, She’s So Mean” and “I Lost My Pants” and “Don’t Eat the Food That Is Sitting on Your Plate” were in heavy rotation.

 

A love story

Cory Booker talks about growing up in Harrington Park, falling in love with Judaism

Often it’s easy to pick out a non-Jewish candidate trawling for Jewish votes.

He’ll show up at a shul wearing a fancy crocheted kippah with his name spelled out along the edge; it’ll be pinned to cover the bald spot precisely. (Really, if you’re going to wear one, you might as well benefit from it, right?)

He’ll throw out Yiddishisms with abandon — mishuganeh here, mensch there, oy, oy everywhere. He’ll talk about getting a bagel with a schmear. (Do you know any Jew who has ever eaten one of those? Me neither.)

In order to show his deep, lifelong sense of connection to the Jewish community, he’ll pander so hard it must make his teeth hurt.

But if you are looking for an actual Judeophile, a non-Jew whose connection to the Jewish world is longstanding, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and clearly real, you would have to direct your gaze in another direction.

 

5774 Year in Review

Read about the highs and lows of 5774 — and everything in between.

September 2013

• The United States and Russia reach a deal to rid Syria of its arsenal of chemical weapons, promoting Jewish groups to suspend their efforts lobbying for U.S. strikes against Damascus.

• Rabbi Philip Berg, founder of the Kabbalah Centre in Los Angeles and teacher of Jewish mysticism for A-list celebrities, dies at 86.

• William Rapfogel, the ousted leader of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in New York, is arrested on charges of grand larceny and money laundering. Investigators later say the scheme involving Rapfogel netted $9 million in illicit funds, including $3 million for Rapfogel himself. Rapfogel pleads guilty the following April and is sent to prison in July for 3 1/2 to 10 years.

 
 
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