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Behind the Headlines; UJA Exploring How Federations Can Raise More Money from Donors

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At a time when many federations are contracting the size of their professional staffs, one Jewish demographer is recommending that they pump up their fund-raising muscle.

“We’re in tough times, and everyone wants to cut their sales force. How insane!” Gary Tobin told a workshop Monday at the United Jewish Appeal’s National Campaign Conference.

Tobin, who is director of Brandeis University’s Center for Modern Jewish Studies, said a just-released market research analysis he prepared for UJA indicated that the UJA-federation system, despite having raised over $1 billion last year, is getting a lower and lower share of Jewish philanthropic dollars.

What is needed, he said, is to both “get back to the basics” and dramatically rethink the way UJA raises funds.

And for federations to solicit funds properly, he said, will take more professional staff.

“If we continue to brag about how low our overhead is while the proportion who give is declining, something is wrong,” Tobin said.

“Our efficiency is virtually unknown to donors. We can afford another 4 or 5 percent in terms of our fund-raising overhead,” he said.

According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, UJA’s fund-raising costs represent about 5 percent of the amount it raises, and the largest local federations spend between 5 and 10 percent on fund raising.

Tobin said the campaign needs to search aggressively for new donors, through such means as direct mail, but that it also needs to use a more personal approach with those who are already giving.

“Most major donors are not being solicited face to face,” the traditional method used by UJA, he said. “Follow-up has broken down dramatically.”

MUST ‘HUMANIZE THE GIVING’

At the same time, he said, donors should be solicited not just by their peers, but by a lay-professional duo — a suggestion that will require more staff.

He said the UJA-federation system must do more to make donors feel good. “There needs to be more stroking — not in the form of plaques and dinners and public recognition, but much more personal, one-on-one meetings.”

And there should be a stronger effort to let donors know about the people their gifts help, particularly at the local level.

“The symphony is taking donors out for lunch with the cellist. If we don’t humanize the giving, we’re going to lose the battle,” he said.

In what he described as his most controversial recommendation, Tobin said the Jewish community has to “reintroduce standards” as to what constitutes a good gift.

Donors say, “No one can tell me I have to give 5 percent or 10 percent,” said Tobin. “But someone has to break out of the tautology where donors say, ‘I give what I think is right.’

“At most communities, top-level givers are stuck where they are” and not increasing their gifts, said Tobin. He said this is because giving levels are often suggested on the basis of what others contribute rather than according to a universal standard.

Tobin’s research verified at least as many truisms about the UJA as it disputed.

“In spite of all the assaults, support of Israel as the core of Jewish identity remains strong. Even those who deny they care about Israel, they deny it vociferously,” he said.

“Israel remains the primary motivator. If Israel were removed from the central campaign, it would collapse tomorrow,” he said.

Tobin observed that UJA still “has the highest name recognition” of any Jewish organization and suggested that local federations rethink their removal of “UJA” from their names.

Tobin said his recommendations should be implemented immediately — a time frame that in an institutional context like UJA means over the next three to eight years, he said.

Some of the “new and innovative ideas” listed for the 1993 UJA campaign by Joel Tauber, the Detroit industrialist sworn in Tuesday as national campaign chairman, seem to reflect the report’s findings.

“We are serious about getting 10,000 people to Israel on missions,” said Tauber. That would represent a 50 percent increase from this year’s turnout on the missions, reflecting Tobin’s belief that “missions work.”

Tauber also promised more intensive efforts to solicit from top donors.

“There are 800 gifts $100,000 and up, and about 300 to 400 more should be there. We will be analyzing those cards precisely, and developing a plan for each individual,” he said. He added: “There’s now more money being raised from Jews by non-Jewish causes, and we must stop it.”

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