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entries tagged with: Jason Shames


As federation drops ‘UJA’ moniker, it moves in new strategic directions

Federation interim executive David Gad-Harf at a strategic planning implementation committee meeting. courtesy UJA-NNJ

It’s not your parents’ federation.

That’s how Amy Glazer sums up the radical change under way at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Glazer served on the committee charged with implementing the strategic plan the federation adopted a year ago that outlined the transformation.

“It was a thought-provoking, very in-depth process we went through,” she said. “There was a lot of prioritizing, a lot of examining the issues, in deciding the direction federation should go in.”

Not directly linked to the new directions, the federation will be receiving a new name at its annual meeting Tuesday night, becoming the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. Dropping the UJA name is a response to a branding recommendation from the Jewish Federations of North America, the national organization that stopped using the United Jewish Appeal name more than a decade ago. The annual meeting will also provide an opportunity for the federation to present its new executive vice president, Jason Shames, who will start work next month, and it will bring in a new lay leader, as David Goodman takes over the federation’s presidency from Alan Scharfstein.

What: The annual meeting of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, which will change its name to Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey

Where: Federation offices, 50 Eisenhower Drive, Paramus

When: Tuesday, June 14, 7:30 p.m.

“We’ve been trying to change the focus of federation, because we recognize that the world around us is changing dramatically,” said Scharfstein, who assumed the presidency in 2008, shortly before the financial crisis and the collapse of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, two events that had a severe impact on the federation’s campaign.

The result will be a federation different in more than name, say those involved in the planning process.

“All of the credits for the idea of beginning to look at the community differently goes to Alan,” said Goodman, who headed the strategic plan implementation committee.

David Gad-Harf, who has been serving as federation’s interim executive officer and will soon resume his position as the organization’s chief operating officer, explained that the traditional federation model is being stood on its head.

“The traditional model is that we will be supporting a very wide range of Jewish agencies [and] we will be providing funding to those agencies in an unrestricted manner; we will call upon people to donate to us merely because we represent the Jewish community and because their donation can be spread throughout he community. The traditional federation creates value almost exclusively in the funding they transfer to other organizations and not in other ways,” he said.

No more.

In its next allocation cycle, next spring, the federation will begin funding programs, rather than agencies.

It will encourage Jewish organizations to collaborate with each other even as they compete as to who can best advance the federation’s priorities.

The federation’s three core strategies

1. Identifying and funding key communal priorities that respond to critical unmet needs locally and abroad

2. Strengthening local Jewish institutions so that they can better serve the community’s current and emerging needs

3. Engaging more people in Jewish philanthropy to increase both the human and financial resources the northern New Jersey Jewish community can leverage to grow even stronger than it is today.

Source: The federation’s strategic plan

And in another major shift from business as usual, overseas and local agencies will no longer be the domains of separate allocations committees.

Instead, three committees will each focus on one program priority: Jewish education and culture; providing a safety net; and strengthening the connection to Israel.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s domestic or overseas, it’s where our needs are greatest,” said Goodman.

“We no longer define our community as just North Jersey,” he added. “When we refer to community, we include Israel and around the world. It’s so much easier in today’s world to feel like you’re so close to the people of Israel and the other Jews of the world who are in need.”

“As part of every allocation we will want to understand what the measurables are going to be, what the goals are,” said Scharfstein.

“The value added to the community will be tracked and measured and monitored and compared to the goals set when the allocation was made, so we understand the value our dollars are creating.”

Better measurement reflects a more business-like approach to philanthropy, said Scharfstein.

It also reflects the demands of the younger generation of philanthropists the federation needs to woo.

“Younger donors believe in following their money, they want a seat at the table, and we need to create avenues for them to do that,” said Goodman.

It will make for easier campaign soliciting, federation leaders believe.

“We will be able to cite specific examples of programs that are being funded by federation through their contributions. That’s not something we can do now with any specificity,” said Gad-Harf.

Federation leaders say the new model also provides a better bang for the buck — a serious concern if the federation is to compete with other philanthropies.

The federation’s four communal priorities

1. Promoting and expanding the sense of Jewish identity and belonging in northern New Jersey

2. Enhancing the affordability and accessibility of Jewish cultural and learning experiences

3. Providing for the basic needs of Jews locally and around the world

4. Strengthening the connection of the northern New Jersey Jewish community with Israel

Source: The federation’s strategic plan

“In the past,” said Goodman, “people might say they’re giving $100 to federation, and x percent goes to pay overhead, and the discounted dollar goes to provide benefits and services overseas or locally.

“We don’t want to discount your dollars. We want your $100 to be worth $125 in the community,” he said.

Recent federation innovations are making that a reality, he said.

There’s the Kehillah Cooperative, which consolidates purchasing for 80 Jewish organizations, including synagogues and schools.

“We’ve been able to lower electric bills because we’re purchasing as a larger group. We’re doing that with health benefits, office supplies, and many other things. The community has saved over $650,000 because of federation’s investment in a purchasing agent. How’s that for putting in $100 and getting $125 out?” said Goodman.

Another such multiplying effect will come as the federation helps agencies transition to the new funding process, which will require agencies to write grant proposals for specific programs.

“How many agencies know how to write grants? So we have a grant writer who teaches our agencies how to write grants so they can request funding from federation. But once they’ve learned how to write grants, they can write grant proposals for foundations outside the community, they can write grant proposals for government funding. There’s a value-added scenario for you.”

This logo will be presented to the community Tuesday night.

Jews are responsible for one another

Locally, change came first

At the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, change is well under way as a new generation assumes leadership.

With the Adler Family Innovation Fund, launched a few months ago, the federation embraced a new model of spurring communal creativity.

The fund received 70 proposals from a variety of institutions for projects locally and overseas, said David Gad-Harf, the federation’s chief operating officer and for six months its interim chief executive. It expects to announce successful proposals next month, and hopes to have $300,000 in dedicated funding for them.

“The process we’ve been following for the innovation fund is like a test of the way we’re going to be approaching all funding going forward,” he said. “We’ll identify priorities for the community, issue requests for proposals, make selections, monitor performance, and see that the agencies accomplish what they set out to do.

“We’ve been a traditional federation, a federation that raises money in a traditional manner, disburses money in a traditional manner, relates to agencies in a traditional manner. We’ve awakened to the reality that in order to thrive in the future, we have to make changes in all three areas,” said Gad-Harf.

These changes emerged from the federation’s strategic planning process. David Goodman, 47, who assumed the post of the federation’s president last month, led the implementation of the new strategic plan. But Jason Shames, who assumed the role of federation chief executive officer this week at the age of 40, came into the federation with the changes already well underway.

“This isn’t like going out to the O.K. Coral and building from scratch,” he said about his new post. “We have quality leadership, quality staff, and quality institutions.”


Charities balk at rule change

Dispute centers around earmarking pros and cons

You have the right to tell a charity how to spend your dollars. Should you? And should the government force that agency to remind you that you have that right?

These questions were raised by a regulation proposed by the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs earlier this summer, which would add disclosure requirements to charitable solicitations. Under the proposed rule change, charities would be required to inform potential contributors of their right to designate which programs they wish to fund with their donation. The charities would also have to make it clear that unless a donation is designated, all or part of it could be used for “administrative and fundraising expenses.”

Where the money goes

Here are the breakdowns for the money the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey allocated for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.

The proposal would also require these disclosures to be made in any solicitation, written or oral, that mentioned one or more specific projects. In practical terms, this means among other things that Super Sunday solicitors would have to add a mouthful of required jargon to their fundraising script.

Before the public comment period for the regulation closed last week, a wide range of charities sent in their disapproval. Among them was the New Jersey Association of Jewish Federations, which strongly opposed the proposal.

“With mandatory designation, individuals would overwhelmingly give their gift to the most popular issue of the day and would not necessarily provide funds for feeding hungry seniors or other safety net concerns,” said Ruth Cole, president of the association.

“We’re talking about a dangerous precedent,” said Jason Shames, newly installed executive vice president of the renamed Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. “The whole intent of Federation is to balance the competing needs. Individual allocation decisions would have drastic effects on communal allocations.”

Shames noted that it is donors – those who volunteer to serve on the allocation committee and its subgroups – who decide how the money raised by the campaign is spent.

“The entire communal pot is earmarked by donor individuals, by involved lay leadership. That’s why we’re a communal organization,” he said.

The Center for Non-Profits in North Brunswick argued in its comments that the requirement violates Supreme Court First Amendment rulings. It also argued that the proposed disclosure unfairly stigmatized overhead necessary to keep organizations running.

For its part, in proposing the regulation, the Division of Consumer Affairs argued that charities sometimes feature “a particular program or programs in the soliciting materials, which may not be funded to the extent that a contributor might expect from the soliciting material. For example, soliciting material may feature both research and consumer education programs, but one may be funded almost to the exclusion of the other.”

By contrast, “The Division believes that if particular programs are the inducement for a donor to make a contribution to the charity, the donor should be advised that he or she has the option to direct the charity to use his or her contribution to fund that program,” according to its statement.

Put another way, the consumer affairs rule-changers are concerned that charities are using deceptive methods to raise money. The charities, including the Jewish ones, reject that assertion.

At the former UJA-NNJ, Shames disputes the idea that portraying a specific program implies that all donations go toward that program. “We’re not false advertising,” he said.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is make the community aware of everything that the unrestricted dollar does. We have thousands of things we’re doing with the money that comes in.”

Despite the importance of communal planning, he said the federation is interested in helping donors with their individual projects.

“We have the capacity now to work with targeted donors on specific areas of interest, programs and services in high priority areas of the community. If you want to give money for project X and it’s a priority for us, and you are able to underwrite most of it, we have the capacity to do it,” he said.

“The problem we would have is if people earmark to specific projects and there’s not enough money to pay for it.

“Right now, 90 percent of the dollars we receive are unrestricted. Most people understand about Federation giving and allocation and disbursement,” he said.

Of the total dollars spent:

Fundraising expenses: 22%

Administrative expenses: 6%

Programming and allocations: 72%

Allocated money

61% goes to local institutions and programs

39% goes to overseas agencies

(not including federation-administered

• Jewish Family Services 48%

• Jewish community centers 19%

• Jewish residential facilities for older adults & individuals with disabilities 12%

• Jewish educational programs 19%

• Smaller agencies & programs 2%

(not including federation-administered

• Jewish Agency for Israel & American Joint Jewish Distribution Committee 61%

• Partnership with Israel 12%

• Community centers 5%

• Former Soviet Union 7%

• Programs for Ethiopians 5%

• Programs for at-risk/underprivileged youth 5%

• Smaller programs 5%


Departure sparks federation shifts

JFNNJ uses staff opening to rethink structure

The evolution of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) continues.

Senior staff has taken on new responsibilities, and work is beginning on new initiatives that will help chart future directions for the federation in the years ahead.

This comes as federation chief Jason Shames marks eight months at the JFNNJ helm, and as the charity continues to implement the recommendations of its recent strategic planning process.

In a high-level shuffling of administrative portfolios, David Gad-Harf, who had been chief operating officer for six years (including a stint as interim chief executive officer), has been named chief development officer.

In addition to assuming responsibility for fundraising, Gad-Harf will continue to oversee marketing and communication for the federation, and its relationships with beneficiary and other Jewish agencies.

Many of his operational responsibilities will become the responsibility of Chief Financial Officer Robin Greenfield.

These changes in responsibility follow the departure of former Chief Development Officer Larry Cohen, who has assumed a post with American Friends of Bar-Ilan University.

“We had to reshuffle the deck a little,” said Shames.

“It offered an opportunity to reevaluate how we’re structured, and to try to come up with the best structure to meet our needs,” said Gad-Harf.

“We are building a more integrated structure,” he said, with all aspects of the organization “working in tandem to engage people, to convey the right messages, to offer opportunities for involvement and philanthropy.”

Gad-Harf now heads a fundraising staff of 10 professionals, as well as around 80 volunteer solicitors. In line with the unifying of marketing and development, however, he emphasizes that everyone involved in the charity is in the fundraising business, even if they are not directly soliciting.

“I want to define fundraising very broadly so every volunteer, every staff member of federation, understands they have a role to pay and they have a stake in our success. Everyone can play a very meaningful role in fundraising by widening the circle of people who feel the investment in federation’s success and the future of our Jewish community.”

Another new development in the fundraising department is the hiring of Andy Arenson to work on “donor cultivation and stewardship” in what JFNNJ is calling “the Palisades corridor.”

The federation last had such a position “years and years ago,” said Shames.

That area — which includes towns from Englewood and Tenafly up north through Closter and Demarest and Rockleigh — “has some very successful Jewish institutions, and is rife with people who are engaged Jewishly,” said Shames.

Arenson “is somebody who lives there and fits some of those demographic profiles of what exists in those communities,” he said, and has the responsibility “to reach out to peers and others involved to get them involved in the broader Jewish community,” he said.

Meanwhile, looking to the western side of the northern New Jersey Jewish community, the federation is finalizing a task force to examine the region “west of the Garden State Parkway, as far west as Wayne and even Paterson,” said Shames, the area formerly covered by the Jewish Federation of North Jersey, which merged with the Jewish Federation of Bergen County and North Hudson in 2004 to create what is now known as the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Dubbed the North Jersey Task Force, the committee is being chaired by the JFNNJ’s immediate past president, Alan Scharfstein, and includes representatives from area institutions, including the Wayne Y, the Bergen YJCC, and the Gerrard Berman Day School.

“The federation has been proactive in bringing this agenda to the table. The question up front is whether these agencies are in the right place, providing the right services, and then what can we do to provide the right service,” said Shames.

JFNNJ is also embarking on a marketing study that will examine the entire northern New Jersey Jewish community. “The study will tell us where people are living, what they’re interested in, and what they’re willing to support philanthropically,” he said.

“We’re going to look beyond demographics into behavioral trends and psychological analyses. What are the consumer and philanthropic trends in the community?” he said.

The goal is “to help us understand the community, where it is and where it’s going. The information we’re collecting is not only for federation, but for anyone ineterested in the Jewish marketplace of New Jersey.”

And in an endeavor that is just beginning, JFNNJ is forming a committee to examine its governance and how its board operates. “This is all being driven by the recommendations of the strategic plan,” said Shames.

Reflecting on his months in New Jersey, Shames said he “is surprised by how tough it is to raise funds here. Philanthropy in northern New Jersey is a real, real issue for 90 percent of the institutions in our catchment area. It’s a long term issue for 100 percent of them. One of our biggest challenges is turning people from consumers into philanthropists.”

Gad-Harf said he is convinced that the community can meet that challenge.

“We have here in northern New Jersey a tremendous amount of untapped potential to do good and make important things happen, to strengthen our Jewish community, both here in New Jersey and in other parts of the world. I’m determined to unleash our potential, and I’m just confident that we’re going to make this happen over the next several years,” he said.


Re-evaluating how dollars are spent

Federation puts some education programs on hold

A decision to suspend three long-running programs for area Jewish educators has left the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) on the defensive, but it may have helped spark greater cooperation on educational issues among the community’s rabbis.

Jason Shames, the federation’s chief executive officer, said the programs, which already had been scheduled, are “on hiatus” for the year. The programs were two conferences, one for early childhood educators and one for Hebrew school teachers, and an ongoing forum that gathered together day school principals every few weeks. The resources that would have paid for these programs are instead being used to evaluate the programs and goals of the federation’s Jewish Educational Services (JES) division.

“We don’t have enough bandwidth staff-wise to parallel everything we’re doing while undergoing a process to identify the priority areas,” Shames told The Jewish Standard.

“The core of JES remains the same,” said Shames, pointing to the federation-sponsored Florence Melton Adult Mini-School program and the projects JES undertakes with the day schools. “Jewish education remains a priority.”

Shames pointed to a soon-to-be-announced grant in the $30,000 range to Jewish day schools to support collaborative professional development for teachers. This grant is part of the shift toward grant-based allocations called for by the federation’s strategic plan adopted last year.

Professional development had been the primary focus for JES, which prior to the global financial crisis had a staff of 11, several of them paid for by outside grants. Now it has a staff of two. Organizationally, the staffers are being reassigned to JFNNJ’s Synagogue Life Initiative (SLI).

Shames said the evaluation of JES is part of the process of moving federation’s operations in line with the goals and strategies called for by the strategic plan, which “gave this community a new mission. It talks about the federation providing added value and leadership to the community. It called for goals and objectives that meet that mission. The JES has not been put to the litmus test in terms of our strategic plan.”

Hence, he said, the need for the evaluation. “The needs of our community are far outpacing the entire communal effort to address them, so we need to focus on the federation’s priority areas,” he said.

Initial news of the federation’s retrenchment in educational programming, however, was poorly received by the area’s rabbinic leadership.

The North Jersey Board of Rabbis (NJBR), which is mainly composed of the area’s non-Orthodox rabbis, had begun discussions about working together to enhance Jewish education when it learned of the changes at JES.

Some of the initial concerns the rabbis had were somewhat alleviated following conversations with Shames.

“There are some of us who are unhappy with the decision to reallocate the education dollars this year for the study,” said Rabbi Randall Mark, the current NJBR president. “There are others who have an issue with the process as opposed to the content: Tell us what you’re doing and why, not just that you’re doing it.”

He said that the rabbis understood the motivation for the hiatus. “All of us want the federation to spend wisely,” Mark said. “We acknowledge the need for them to ensure the dollars they receive go for the best possible use. Stopping to take a look is not a bad idea.”

Word of the hiatus at JES came as the rabbis were embarking on their own venture into promoting Jewish education. The group decided to put time and effort into that, and several volunteered to join a committee on the issue.

“We’re going to make this a larger part of our efforts, to work with federation, and to advocate for a broader community involvement in supporting Jewish education,” said Rabbi Benjamin Shull. The rabbi, who leads Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, will assume the NJBR presidency later this month.

The group has been discussing what they as rabbis can do to address “significant changes” in the Jewish educational landscape, among them “some shrinking of the institutions,” Shull said.

“If we need new models and broader representation and support for Jewish education — and I think we do — we should be having some rabbinic voice in trying to bring the broader community together. There’s an overall sense that our community is too fragmented, our educational institutions are working in their own areas, and there’s not enough discussion of collaboration.


After a year on the job,  federation chief looks forward

When the search committee of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey interviewed Jason Shames for the position of chief executive officer, they were impressed with how well he understood and was excited by their strategic plan. The leadership of the federation had decided that changes in the way the venerable charity did business had to be made, and Shames understood the suggested changes and was able to lay out a timetable of suggested implementation.

A year later, “he has implemented all of those initial steps,” said Jayne Petak, the federation board member who chaired the search committee.

“The changes he has brought to us have been very, very positive,” she said.

For Shames, the stakes in changing the way the federation operates are high.

“I’m frightened to death that the Jewish communities of America – not just us – are not going to have the time to do the work that needs to be done to move us forward for the next 50 or 100 years,” he said in an interview at the federation’s Paramus offices last week.

“My generation, my kids’ generation are very different” from the older generation of donors, who remember the crises of the mid-20th century, from the eve of the Holocaust through the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars, Shames, who is 41, said.

“In its heyday, the federation could send out a message to support the UJA Federation campaign and didn’t need to give reasons why. The brand name carried the day.”

Shames believes that “Jews are great at supporting Israel when there’s an emergency and a crisis. Jews are great at supporting local institutions when there’s an emergency and a crisis.” But absent that crisis, “it’s more of a challenge to raise funds — and I don’t want to see that kind of a crisis,” he said.

What the Jewish communities of northern New Jersey and around the world face is not an emergency, he continued, but “we have ongoing challenges,” pointing to the needs of social services and Jewish education and the need to maintain and expand a community that offers affordability, accessibility, and inclusive Jewish services.

Shames’s entire career has been in the world of Jewish federations, but he believes that to cope with the challenges, “federation has to adopt a corporate business-like model.

“In 2009, for-profit corporations were spending over 10 percent of their budget on marketing, meaning advertising. Federations were spending, maybe, 0.01 percent,” he said. “Running a not-for-profit is not the same. It’s a lot more challenging.”

Shames believes that becoming more corporate — investing more in marketing and research and development —ultimately will pay dividends to the federation, making it more successful at its core mission, which is raising money for Jewish communal needs. In the short run, however, in “an era of increasing costs and stable revenue,” it’s hard to make that shift.

So Shames has been soliciting contributions from core federation supporters to fund new projects that aim to make the federation more successful in raising funds down the road. These “above the line” donations are in addition to donors’ regular gifts to the federation’s annual campaign.

One of the new projects, the “emerging philanthropists” initiatives, is aimed at “the next generation of major donors.

“We’re trying to identify people in their 40s and 50s who have the capacity to give. We will be approaching them, and engaging them on their terms,” Shames said.

The other project is a marketing survey of the northern New Jersey Jewish community.

So far, said Shames, the federation has raised $100,000 for the effort, and is looking for another $75,000 to $100,000 to make it possible.

“The people who are giving to us now are incredibly charitable. But their peers who aren’t — how can we engage them?

“What we need to do is to learn how people in our donor base respond to different messages. We have to do some real sophisticated work here to figure out if people are more inclined to give to a plea to help Holocaust survivors or if they are more interested in supporting sending kids to Israel.

“We need to understand the philanthropic marketplace better. We need to understand what they want to support.”

It has been a dozen years since the then-UJA Federation of Bergen County and North Hudson undertook its 2001 population study, which covered a smaller catchment area then today’s federation, which is a result of a merger with the Jewish Federation of North Jersey. The marketing study “will tell us where people are living, what programs and services people are interested in, and whether people will support Jewish programs and services and, if so, what type.”

Shames said that in the last year federation has increased its volume of solicitations, particularly with telephone calls, direct mail, and email. “We’re doing it in larger volume. We just are not getting the response we should like. We need more people who support federation.”

One problem, he said, is that the federation has drifted away from the old-fashioned direct solicitation of donors by volunteers, in part because “there are far less Jews in this community who are willing to go to their neighbors and peers and say ‘you need to contribute.’ We’re struggling with the insufficient number of volunteer solicitors to cover the open commitments in any given year,” he said.

Shames had researched the problem before he came to Paramus, when he worked at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. “In 2010, we had half as many people asking the same number of people for money as we did ten years earlier,” he said.

Now, in northern New Jersey, “We’re cultivating a campaign leadership group to bring more people into the tent to make these asks.”

Personally, he enjoys soliciting donors. “But there’s a balance between how much solicitation lay leadership should be doing and what professionals should be doing. Right now it’s too professionally driven. The challenge is to get people to understand that to ask another Jew to help other Jews is not a bad thing.”

Not that asking always works.

“There have been people who used to be major donors who stopped. That’s a tough turn-around. I called a woman six times. She never called me back. I don’t take it personally, but I know for those people it is personal. They have a personal issue with federation and for whatever reason they walked away. Unfortunately, those who are getting hurt are members of our community.”

It is a community that Shames has come to appreciate in the year that he has lived here. “Northern New Jersey is one of the best places to live a Jewish life,” he said. “We have a lot of infrastructure and a lot of Jewish opportunities here.

“The challenge is getting the people to understand the case for giving in a community where the infrastructure has always been there and it is easy for us to seamlessly identify Jewishly. People might argue — why do you need my money, we have three JCCs, 80 synagogues, and 11 day schools.

“The answer is that there’s always more we can do. Tuition assistance at day schools is a challenge, social services is a severe challenge, maintaining the nursing homes is also a challenge. Even though the buildings are there, it doesn’t mean our community doesn’t need to support the services that are provided within the buildings.”

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