A New Approach

(Mr. Willen, director of the Business Men’s Council of the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies, outlined the following approach to one of the most important problems in American Jewish communal life in an address before the recent national conference of the National Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds.)

New York Federation is just now completing a successful campaign. In many ways it has been an extraordinary effort. The size and character of the financial problem that confronted us three months ago set what seemed literally an impossible task. We were called on to raise a deficit of $2,071,000, whereas a year ago we had raised $1,300,000. In Federation’s eighteen years of history it had never been called on to raise more than $1,400,000 in a deficit campaign.

Yet today, as the campaign enters its final stages, it can be said with some confidence that the seemingly impossible task will be accomplished. At this date we have received donations of $1,950,000 compared with $1,250,000 last year. What is even more significant, gifts to the deficit campaign have been received from 38,000 individuals compared with 18,000 a year ago.

The figures that I have cited may be of little meaning outside New York. Since my experience has been confined to New York, I must necessarily deal with the situation with which I am most familiar. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that the campaign structure and the lessons to be learned from the effort in New York will find general application in some degree at least to Jewish groups throughout the country, except in the very smallest communities.

The time has come when we must seriously consider the question, “What price fund-raising?” The campaign just ending has crystallized many doubts and fears in the minds of both lay and professional leadership. It has made us wonder if the cost in community values sacrificed, in community problems glossed over and postponed, in unsound community attitudes and ideals built up, may not be so great as to constitute a real menace not only to the well-being of private philanthropy, but to the health of the Jewish group as a whole.


First, the stressing in recent years of fear as a group motivation—and this may be true only of New York. It is all very well to link up the necessity for good conduct and decent community behavior with apprehensions about anti-Semitism, its present spread and future growth in the United States. But there are limits to the usefulness of this appeal. In the first place, repercussions of continually stressing anti-Semitism may be more dangerous than we have foreseen.

Secondly, this weapon is one that blunts itself quickly with use. And in any case, to discuss the problems of children or the sick in terms of Hitler rapidly becomes an absurdity. As a motivation for community planning we should rather emphasize pride in our work, in the institutions we have built up, pride in our traditions and in ourselves.

Very important is the usurping by the fund-raising campaign of the position properly belonging to the problems, the functions and the activities of the social agencies for which the campaign is supposedly an auxiliary. Money-raising, which should be only a means to an end, becomes an end in itself. Clearly this means impoverishment of community spirit on a large scale, for interest in money-raising cannot for long be a primary interest with human beings.

Similarly, one of the by-products of campaign technique and methods is the representation of community problems in such diluted and artficially simplified terms as to provide no basis for that concrete understanding of social needs which remains the only dependable foundation for the continued interest of the private citizen in private philanthropy. Campaigns are short-lived, high-pressure affairs, and the techniques used tend to be those of high-pressure advertising or sales campaigns. Obviously, arguments have to be simple and dramatic. Obviously, it is possible only to skim the surface.


No one can deny the yeoman service that these campaigns have rendered in the past few years. No one will minimize the contributions they have made to our wider knowledge of community life, nor fail to recognize the permanent usefulness of many methods evolved by them. But their very success becomes a danger if they are considered as anything more than a stop-gap until we develop a new approach.

Short, high-pressure, fund raising orgies, no matter how skilful or how well organized, will never prove a substitute for basically sound, continuously functioning community organization. The recurrent crises that bedevil our private welfare organizations, the financial emergencies that follow, one hard upon the heels of the other, point to maladjustments too fundamental to be solved by annual applications of high-powered stimulants, no matter how potent.

The problem that faces Jewish groups as well as all other groups today is a problem not primarily of fund-raising, but of recognizing and dealing with a reconstructed community. Successful campaigns will bring us breathing spells, but there is no permanent hope for us until we are willing to turn our minds to the most searching and fundamental long-range community planning and reorganization.


The solution of our problem lies, in my opinion, in the realization of the rising importance in our present-day economic and social life of the group as a unit of action and organization. The past decade has seen the growth of group action and responsibility on a scale that would have seemed incredible to the individualistic thinking and acting American of an earlier day. The past two years have seen this trend openly recognized and the pattern deeply imbedded in the industrial and political life of the nation. No one will say that these tendencies have assumed their final form, but few will deny that in some form or other they are a permanent part of the American scene.

Certainly, no approach to the problem of Jewish organization for community welfare can hope to have any validity that does not take these new forms of group organization into account. No community organization can hope to be effective that does not learn to work with them and through them.

Our problem becomes then something quite different from that visualized in the past. It is still a problem of dealing with individuals, for outstanding individuals remain — and promise to remain for sometime to come an important pillar of our community life. But it is also a problem of learning to deal with economic and other groups in their collective expression.

To some extent, of course, we have always dealt with groups, such as synagogue, social club, women’s groups, but even there we have not placed the responsibility on the group as such but instead have used the group solely as an approach to the individual.


Let me now describe in rough outline what this new approach to the problem will mean in concrete application. Much of what I will say is necessarily a “dream,” zukunftmusik. Fortunately, however, a substantial part of this suggested plan for community organization has already been tested in action and proved itself practical. Indeed, it would be hard to estimate how large a role was played in the success of the 1934 Federation campaign by the incorporation of these relatively new groups approached in our fund-raising effort.

How, then, must we go about organizing a community for the adequate, continuous support of their social welfare structure?

First in importance the group instrumentalities of our contemporary society are the agencies, associations, and governing bodies of the various trades and industries. For a number of years these organizations have exercised important functions of group practice and responsibility. With the coming of the N.R.A., they have become the officially recognized organs of control and action within the various industries.

With trade associations the accepted agencies for enforcing standards of fair practice and behavior within the industry, it becomes logical and natural to approach individual business men through them to meet their larger civic and philanthropic responsibilities. To come to trade associations with specifically Jewish problems has its difficulties. However, in New York — and probably in other cities of large Jewish population — industries in which there are large numbers of Jews tend to be predominantly Jewish.

Such industries should be asked to assume responsibility in Jewish life as an industry. During the Federation campaign we appeared before the organization of such trades as cloaks and suits, dresses, shirts, men’s neckwear, theatre owners, restaurant owners, etc. We asked these trade groups whether organizations placing so great emphasis on codes could possibly dodge responsibility for an issue so important as the support of Jewish philanthropic agencies. In conference with the governing groups of these and other trades, they voluntarily assumed a quota based on the volume of business and the profits that the industry would show for the current year, undertook to use the machinery of the trade to organize the campaign, and made the approach to the individual on the basis of the obligation that the industry owed the community.


This approach is possible of great development. I would suggest, first, that an educational program, which would be continuous throughout the year; be undertaken to acquaint the leadership of these trade organizations with the fundamental problems involved in our private philanthropy and the general community without regard to specific money needs. I do not believe that these problems should be presented in predigested, propaganda form. If there are differences of opinion, they should be placed before these groups; if there are conflicts in interests, they should be concretely described and discussed. Second, it is important that the institutions and other forms of organized Jewish life look upon these governing boards of industries as possible sources for leadership material, and that leadership in industry be reflected in leadership in Jewish communal life. And by leadership in industry we do not mean merely the leaders of “big business.” This has been too much the picture in the past. We must include a far wider and more typical range of business groups and their leadership. We have not been prepared to deal with the candid criticism of the various groups in our community. We have tended to be a totalitarian Federation.

Throughout, the basic approach is to deal with these industries not in terms of individuals, but with the industry as a whole. Success in prevailing upon industries to accept responsibility will mean great simplification in the techniques both of education and of fund-raising. Group action will give to the group a sense of being a weighty factor in the situation, which will tend in turn to engage the interest of the group not merely in fund-raising, but in the whole problem of building a communal basis of support for Jewish social agencies.


A second approach is to organized labor as an indispensable part of any communal plan. No group in the community has a more vital interest in the maintenance of intelligent social work programs. Workers have the best possible reason for concern; so large a part of the clients involved come from their ranks. Their need for an intelligent hospital program is immediate and personal. Beyond any group in the community they have a stake in a decent program for child-care, since they realize that their own children, or the children of those very close to them, may be involved.

How much more desirable from every viewpoint it is to approach the worker, wherever possible, as a group, through his own organization. The relationship thus built, becase it follows the natural lines of our economic life, is certain to be not only more productive of funds, but more healthy and permanent.

Let us say we are able to secure the cooperation of a union of 100,000 members to assess its memberships $1 a year, which is not beyond the realms of possibility for New York, even in the near future. Each member of the union will identify himself with the substantial gift made by the union as a whole, which will give him a sense of power, and with it a sense of interest.

If we are genuinely interested in obtaining the support of labor unions, I believe we must not wait for their financial contributions to give them a share in the leadership and direction of our community institutions. I am not suggesting that we put one or two labor leaders on a board or two. I am thinking of some such figure as a hundred. With a community as large as New York I see no reason why this should not be a minimum.

The two kinds of groups we have considered are the basic groups in our present day society. When our private philanthropic structure has built up sound relations with them it will have solved the major part of its financial problems. But there are other intermediate groups which no community plan must omit.

The problem of approaching the lower middle classes is a peculiarly difficult one. Widely scattered, and lacking in economic organization, individual solicitation at this economic level is so costly as to prove impractical. The indicated road here is through social and benevolent organizations, which play a large role in the life of these groups. In New York we have begun the organization of a council, to which we have invited delegates from all lodges, benevolent and fraternal orders and associations. Our effort is to build up a permanent relationship with these groups with a view not merely to securing their financial support but their permanent interest in Federation. This will involve a broad, long-range program of ed###tion, and the granting to the ###groups of participation in direction and leadership of F##eration and the institutions. O## efforts are still in the initia# conference stage, but the out### look is promising, and we look forward, with confidence, to bringing home the problems of private philanthropy to wide circles that until now have been literally untouched.