PHOTO: Jewish Federation of Greater Portland Campaign for Community Needs Co-Chairs Leslie Beard, left, and Jack Birnbach, pictured at the Federation's offices in Tigard Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2023. “The community raised me, and I want to return the favor to the next generations,” Birnbach said. (Rockne Roll/The Jewish Review)
By ROCKNE ROLL
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland provides myriad services to Portland’s Jewish community, from grants to partner agencies to programs abroad and right here in Portland – including this very publication. One thing makes all those other activities possible: The annual Campaign for Community Needs.
“As I’ve gotten more involved in Federation,” explained Campaign Co-Chair Leslie Beard, “I’ve come to realize that the campaign is critical to the functioning of the Federation and all the support that is provided to the Community.”
In the campaign year that closed on June 30, the annual campaign raised more than $3.5 million from donors large and small. Every one of them is essential to the Federation’s work, explained Campaign Co-Chair Jack Birnbach.
“I know firsthand from my dad’s work that the money doesn’t come easy,” he said. “To have a little and to share that with the community is incredibly appreciated.”
Like Beard, Birnbach has gotten more involved with the Federation over time. He has previously led both the allocations committee, which manages the Federation’s contributions to external agencies, and the finance committee, which funds the Federation’s internal programs.
“Having this greater understanding through allocations and through finance really opened my eyes to this great impact that we have,” he said.
The Federation couldn’t function without the campaign, which relies on the hundreds of donors who contribute every year. And part of what is so important about the annual cycle of contacting donors isn’t just the donations but hearing what’s important to them and shaping the Federation’s priorities accordingly.
“To build the community, you have to have conversations,” Federation Chief Development Officer Wendy Kahn said. “You have to know what is important to fund.”
“Hearing people’s stories is interesting, hearing what motivates them,” Beard added. “I think that the process of connecting with people does make it so much more meaningful.”
With campaign conversations being so important, it makes sense that Birnbach reaches out to the donors he calls a week or more in advance to schedule a time to talk. He knows that donors want to feel like they are getting value for their contribution and that they want to feel like they are dealing with someone they can trust. Birnbach, like the overwhelming majority of campaign callers, is not a salesperson.
“I would dare say that our that the folks that make the campaign calls on behalf of Federation are about as caring and trustworthy and motivated as they come,” he said.
While calls are often made by the Federation’s professional staff, quite a few are made by volunteers.
“The volunteers keep us connected to the community,” Kahn said. “We are a small team and so we rely on our volunteers to help us expand our reach, and they are truly our ambassadors.”
While it is meaningful work, it’s not easy to call people and ask for their hard-earned money.
“I think that it was uncomfortable at first. There has been a learning curve,” Beard said of making those phone calls. “I’m getting more comfortable, and I think as you understand how important it is, it gets easier to ask people to contribute because you understand where the money is going and how important the work is.”
As fall approaches, the campaign season really kicks into high gear. Birnbach, Beard, Kahn, and the rest of the Federation’s campaign team hope you’ll respond to those calls and emails, take the time to share your thoughts on what’s important to you, ask questions if you’re wondering where donations go and, of course, give generously as you are able.
“It’s a mitzvah to help others. Tzedakah is so important,” Beard said, using the Hebrew word that’s commonly translated to charity; Kahn pointed out that the root word of tzedakah is tzedek, which translates to “justice.”
Birnbach emphasized how important the broader Jewish community has been to his life and how he wants that to continue for those who come after him.
“I am here because our current donors, our current donors’ parents and our current donors’ grandparents invested in the community, and I’m the beneficiary of that,” he said. “The community raised me, and I want to return the favor to the next generations.”