Impact over Control

We woke Thursday morning with the awful news that eight Israelis -- including two children and two soldiers -- were killed and at least 30 wounded in multiple coordinated terrorist attacks in southern Israel. Our thoughts and prayers go to these individuals, their families and the people of Israel.

I have worked in four different Jewish Federations throughout my career -- each with its own unique history, culture, and business practices. 

In Baltimore (100,000 Jews - raise $31 million), the Federation remains THE single fundraising arm for the organized Jewish community (beneficiary agencies of the Federation do not raise money on their own). This “leverage” provides tremendous oversight and influence over the Jewish communal agencies and the work they do.

Atlanta (140,000 Jews - raise $14 million) and Philadelphia (210,000 Jews - raise $21 million) are similar to Portland where Federation is the central fundraising vehicle for the community, yet each individual agency also runs its own annual campaign. The difference is that Atlanta and Portland provide “block grants” to the various partner agencies for operating support, while the Philadelphia Federation funds only specific programs and projects that it believes will have the greatest impact on the community.

With this as a backdrop, there has been a tremendous amount of discussion in the non-profit world about the “control” funders (i.e. foundations and Federations) should have over its grantees?

The strategic philanthropy movement has been a positive influence in recent years by encouraging funders to clarify their goals and regularly evaluate their progress. But it has also fueled practices that undermine the nonprofit sector’s impact, rather than amplifying it. Too often, funders insist on controlling the ways in which social problems are solved – an approach that I believe hinders opportunities for collaboration and partnership.

When solutions are planned by people disengaged from the work in the field, organizations tasked with implementation feel little ownership or passion for the ideas. Therefore, if funders dictate to its grantees how they should solve social challenges, then it will constrain the beneficiaries’ leadership, expertise and ability to innovate – and thus more bureaucratic work is created for them.

In some communities, nonprofit organizations are stymied. Funders often dictate a singular solution to a problem. Therefore, if your solution does not fit within that strategy your agency would not qualify for funding -- even if the idea produces great results. In this way, the funder is choosing control over impact. This is not our approach.

Federation is a trustee and fiduciary of the Jewish community as a whole. We take that role very seriously. I continue to share with my agency colleagues that I believe in the importance of providing general operating support. We should continue on our current path and use the effective leadership, wisdom and thoughtfulness of the various agency boards. By providing general operating support Federation empowers and promotes effective implementation by our partner agencies so they can invest in their organizational infrastructure and capacity and implement their key strategies.

Our agencies must take the lead in designing solutions to specific challenges. At the same time, Federation must provide the necessary resources to fund multiple solutions and pathways to our communal goals.

Federation is continuing its role as a community planner, convener and problem-solver on a larger scale. Community-designed strategies, through consultation and collective wisdom, can pay huge dividends in solving tough, systemic problems. We have incredible agencies in our community. At the same time, Federation wishes to collaborate more with the synagogue community and other Jewish organizations. Together, as partners with shared interests and ideas, we can raise greater resources for our community – through your support – and have transformational impact on Jewish Portland.

Shabbat Shalom,



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