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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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Standardizing the Times

In which we announce and describe our new online partnership with the Times of Israel

The Jewish Standard is excited and pleased to announce our online partnership with the Times of Israel.

What does that mean to us, and to you?

It means that our hard copy version will stay as it is, but in the next two months or so our web presence will change entirely.

To explain, first we have to go backward.

Not really so very long ago, the world was so much more black and white.

Take newspapers. To begin with, they actually were black and white (and no matter what color your fingers were when you started to read, they’d be black by the time you were done. Ink didn’t stick on newsprint very well).

 

Vaccinate your kid!

Local Jewish leaders talk about their policies

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav was a great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov; he was a chasidic master whose mysticism, extremism, creativity, asceticism, willfulness, and wild emotional swings from despair to ecstasy and then always back to despair make him an almost Byronic figure — had Byron, his contemporary, been a Jew from eastern Europe.

Nachman was thought to be so irreplaceable to his chasidim that they never did replace him; his spiritual descendants go to his grave in Uman, an otherwise obscure Russian town, around Rosh Hashanah every year, wearing their Na-Nach-Nachman-Me-Uman kippot as they brawl noisily around the town.

So why, you might wonder, is Nachman at the start of a story about vaccines?

 

Who stood at Sinai?

Conference to look at 25 years of Jewish feminism, examine what might come next

Every Jew who ever was and ever will be born stood together at Sinai when the mountain smoked and trembled and God revealed the law to them, midrash tells us.

Born Jews stood with those who were born into other faiths but were created with a Jewish spark that was liberated when they left their native people to join us. Souls encountered each other there, across millennia and over the boundless expanses of ocean that separate the continents.

At that one time and place, we were one people.

But wait a minute.

Exactly who was at Sinai?

According to the text, was everyone really there?

 

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Learning to cull less-than-perfect goldfish as they hurtle by you on a slimy assembly line, using your bare hands, disposing of them in garbage bags, is not a skill most nice Jewish boys acquire.

Nor is standing in the middle of an ice-cold pond in a torn wetsuit and hand-selecting the most decorative available koi, at the orders of overseas hoteliers, again with your bare hands.

Jason Shames of Haworth did both those things, during a stay on an Israeli kibbutz. Those and similar skills, oddly enough, were part of a logical progression that took Mr. Shames from the Bronx to the helm of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, a job he accepted four years ago this week.

 

Hunting, hiding, finding — remembering

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Usually — or at least in common mythology, because in truth most of us have limited knowledge in this area — adventurers are amoral. They are men, or occasionally women, who are driven by adrenaline, the rush of danger, the need to go higher or faster or farther away.

And then there are the people moved by mission, by a sense of justice. The do-gooders. They are usually better people, but most likely less interesting — or so the same common mythology suggests.

Yaron Svoray, 58, the Israeli son of Holocaust survivors, is driven by the very basic need to have good conquer evil. Toward that end, he has infiltrated a group of neo- Nazis by pretending to be one of them. He has worked to recover treasures that the Nazis looted, not to enrich himself — he has not — but to pry the destroyers away from their bloodstained prizes. He is now devoting himself as well to working with police across Europe to keep terror from overcoming the continent once again.

 

Fifty shades of gold

Morgan Library showcases modern illuminated Jewish manuscripts by Barbara Wolff

Psalm 104 is about beauty.

It is about other things as well, true, but it starts with beauty and returns to it as a touchstone.

It describes the world with rapturous metaphor. God, who is “clothed with glory and majesty,” who covers himself with “light as with a garment, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,” has made the world in his image.

When you walk into “Hebrew Illumination for Our Time: The Art of Barbara Wolff,” at the Morgan Library in Manhattan until May 3, you are surrounded by the wild precise beauty of that creation, in rich lush exquisite witty masterfully detailed controlled miniature.

To walk into that room is to be stunned by beauty.

 
 
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