More in Common

While many in Oregon were enjoying their children’s spring break from school, I was in New York City attending the annual meeting of “intermediate-sized” Jewish Federation executives with 50 colleagues from around the country. This year was different than in the past. We used to meet, discuss fundraising strategies, and hear multiple national reports. Instead, this time we focused on the challenges facing our communities – and we realized how much we have in common. Four major issues impacting Jewish Federations/communities of our size were discussed:

  • Allocation/grant strategies from Federation annual campaigns
  • The challenging and changing balance between local and overseas allocations
  • Next generation philanthropy and engagement
  • The movement towards “functional communities,” including more discussions about consolidations and mergers

Allocation/Grant Strategies: The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is one of a shrinking number of Jewish Federations where the majority of allocable dollars are “block grants” to its partner agencies. In other words, our Federation’s Allocations Committee, based on articulated priority areas (Jewish identity building, social services, Jewish culture, etc.), decides how much money will be allocated to each agency and the agency then determines the use of those grants.

The trend today (not just in the Federation world) is to solely fund targeted “programmatic grants.” Such Federations now provide money for specific programs they determine should be funded from amongst the many anticipated proposals to be submitted (this requires an enormous amount of additional work for the agencies). Federation is thus making the decision what is most important within that agency.

I would suggest there is a hybrid model where a portion of allocations are made to ongoing core programs and services, and a portion is also aligned to program priorities. In fact, several of our local agencies currently do make specific funding requests for staffing, scholarships, or projects beyond their core allocation. And, at the same time, Federation provides funding to non-partner Federation agencies to broaden the reach and to increase the impact within our Jewish community.

More and more donors are interested in seeing the impact of their contributions. As our Jewish Federation is already beginning to move toward a different funding paradigm, perhaps the various models being used in other communities may be of interest to Jewish Portland?

Local and Overseas Funding: Jewish Federations have always been responsible for both local and overseas needs. In the past, it was not uncommon for Jewish Federations to allocate 50% of an annual campaign to overseas needs (via the United Jewish Appeal to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel). In every community that percentage has decreased dramatically. Local needs in every community continue to take on greater priority. This change has to do with limited annual campaign growth, younger generations with more interest and focus on local needs, and perhaps that Israel is much more economically successful. We should not, however, forget that major social challenges continue to exist in Israel (poverty, food insecurity, acculturation of immigrant communities) and in Jewish communities around the world.

Next Generation Philanthropy and Engagement: In many intermediate-sized communities, there are a select few major donor families. Interestingly, of the 58 communities in this city-size group, 31 have a single donor who represents at least 10% of the total annual campaign. These are often established families who have their family businesses located in that particular community. At the same time, of those 31 communities, 24 are considered “declining” Jewish communities with shrinking Jewish populations, including an “outflow” of younger people (and, in too many cases, including the children of those major philanthropists).

Emphasis on and involvement in family philanthropy for younger generations is hugely important. There also needs to be a renewed communal investment in young leadership development (more on that in May) and young adult engagement. We are fortunate to have a growing Jewish population, yet connecting these young people takes time, effort, energy, resources, and commitment.

Functional Communities: I did not realize we would have such an in-depth conversation on this issue. Many of my colleagues know about our Jewish Portland Tomorrow effort, yet I was fascinated to learn what is taking place in other Jewish communities. This type of conversation is happening all over the country. We heard presentations from Louisville, Austin, and Omaha – each of which is a large multi-organizational consolidated model. In Orange County, California, the Jewish Federation merged with the Jewish Family Service agency. And, Memphis is currently merging their Jewish Federation with their Jewish Foundation. In each case, the community feels that it is positioned stronger for the future and communal priorities are more effectively being addressed.

Next month we will be sharing our consultant’s report on the Jewish Portland Tomorrow framework. The issues and concerns expressed were similar to what transpired in Louisville, Orange County, and Memphis (Austin and Omaha have very different histories and are less relevant) – trust, turf, control. But they each decided to move forward for the benefit of the community. We will soon expand the communal dialogue and see if a new model may be beneficial to our Jewish community, as well.

These conferences are invaluable. They create a sense of renewal and added energy. Beyond the opportunity to see old friends and meet new colleagues, it is the chance to share ideas about common issues. This reinforces in my mind that despite our geographic and population differences our communities are facing similar challenges to meet the needs of American Jewry in the 21st century. Why not learn from the experiences of others?

Shabbat shalom.



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