The Council of Jewish Federations and the United Jewish Appeal have launched a joint study of the national Jewish fund-raising structure that could produce dramatic changes in the way philanthropic funds are raised and allocated.
The $500,000 study was approved by the governing bodies of CJF and UJA recently and announced at a joint news conference here this week by Maynard Wishner of Chicago, president of CJF, and Marvin Lender of New Haven, Conn., president of UJA.
A 28-member committee, representing the constituent agencies involved and local federations, has been appointed to oversee the study. It will be co-chaired by Charles Goodman of Chicago, who is CJF’s immediate past president, and Joel Tauber of Detroit, who is UJA’s national chairman.
While there has been speculation that the study will lead to a CJF-UJA merger, those involved rule out the “m-word” for now, saying it is far too soon to predict the outcome.
But most agree the study is likely to result in major structural changes in the billion-dollar philanthropic enterprise known as the UJA-federation system.
When the study is completed and its recommendations are adopted, there will not be several “executive vice presidents each making $250,000 and above,” predicted one observer familiar with the federation system.
“You don’t commission these studies without, at the minimum, certain levels of cosmetic change.”
The study, whose cost will be split by CJF and UJA, comes in response to a request from leaders of several large-city federations around the country.
In a letter last fall to the heads of CJF and UJA, these federation leaders suggested that it was time to explore the “structure, governance and accountability” of the two veteran agencies.
UJA, with an annual budget of $25 million, is charged with coordinating the national fund-raising campaign for Israel and other overseas needs. CJF, with an annual budget of $11 million, is the representative body of 189 community federations in the United States and Canada.
In their letter, the federation leaders also suggested it was time to take a thorough look at CJF’s and UJA’s relationships to community federations and the two primary UJA beneficiaries: the Jewish Agency, which finances immigrant absorption and other social services in Israel, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which provides humanitarian aid to Jewish communities around the world.
“Any well-run system ought to be looking at its structures, particularly when they’re 50 years old,” explained Steven Solender, executive vice president of New York’s UJA-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and one of eight heads of major federations who put the study into motion.
“I think the average contributor wants to be reassured that we’re really prepared to look at ourselves carefully, and that will be the case in this study,” he said.
The study reflects a recognition that there have been major changes in the way that Jewish philanthropic dollars are raised and allocated since the current system was established half a century ago.
Once upon a time, it was UJA alone that was responsible for raising money for Israel and other overseas needs. Today most of that money is raised by local federations in tandem with money being raised for local needs.
But many of these federations are increasingly feeling a need to keep more of the money they raise at home. They cite ever-burgeoning demands on social services and the need to cope with problems of Jewish education and identity.
Whereas a 50-50 split in funds between local and overseas needs was once standard, today it is held only in the rarest of communities. It is not uncommon for 60 percent of a federation’s campaign proceeds to be kept at home.
UJA is pushing a plan that would essentially remove itself from the local federation allocation process, by moving discussions of how much stays at home and how much goes abroad to some sort of national arena. It would like to see a national formula set up to ensure a “fair-share partnership” between local and international needs.
The federations, for their part, would like more say over how funds raised for UJA are allocated.
“If federations had a better sense of the ownership of the UJA enterprise, perhaps some of the allocation difficulties that exist in some places might be less difficult,” said the head of one major federation.
This federation director conceded that he does not know what form federation ownership of UJA might take.
“I think there are all kinds of possibilities for synergies between the systems,” he said, “and maybe the m-word isn’t the proper word to use. I can’t envision, frankly, that you’d ever see either organization disappear.
“I can’t imagine the national community will ever give away the initials UJA. It’s a very powerful set of initials,” said this director.
Another insider familiar with the federation system suggested that what may result is an “amalgamation” of the UJA and CJF.
“If I’m right,” this insider predicted, “there will be a new organization called UJA-CJF. Really it will have the UJA as a campaign department with some kind of autonomy but no foreign policy, as part of the CJF family, which probably means you cut the budget in half and save $12 million.”
Speculation aside, leaders of CJF and UJA stress that the study is a testament to the increasing cooperation between their two agencies, which have begun sharing resources, including a common office in Israel.
“The study is being initiated in an era of good feeling and cooperation between UJA, CJF and the federations,” said Wishner of CJF.
“We feel good about this study, and we think a lot of good things can come of it,” said Lender of UJA.