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Modified partnership plan sails through critical phase

NEW YORK, Feb. 11 (JTA) — Leaders of the two major institutions of American Jewish philanthropy have agreed on a partnership plan to consolidate operations and raise more money. The blueprint, which stops short of earlier proposals for a formal merger, was crafted by leaders of the Council of Jewish Federations and the United Jewish Appeal during marathon meetings on Sunday and Monday. It still must be approved by the boards of CJF and UJA. The plan’s authors hope that approval will come by May, enabling implementation by early next year if not sooner. The initiative comes in response to widespread recognition that the centralized system charged with raising money for local and overseas Jewish needs must be consolidated so it is more efficient and can increase revenue. UJA and local federations, for which CJF is the national umbrella body, run a joint annual philanthropic campaign of about $720 million. The earlier effort to merge the two entities failed largely because it was too radical and did not involve enough consultation with federations across the country. This time around, the blueprint for partnership is more limited in scope and more gradual in implementation, say some of its key architects. It does not even touch, for instance, the loaded and legally complicated issue of melding two separate governing bodies. Instead, the plan provides for a joint operational committee of lay leaders to oversee joint activities. But otherwise, the two organizations’ governance structures are left intact for now. It also does not address any formula for allocating money overseas, an issue that stymied progress in the last round. What it does call for is: * shared facilities; * an integrated approach to fund raising and other resource development, which UJA will manage on behalf of the partnership; * consolidation of regional offices and cooperative service delivery to communities, which CJF will manage on behalf of the partnership. These recommendations were made unanimously by a committee of 23 representatives of CJF and UJA, after meeting for 30 hours. The group had met only one other time, but based their blueprint on months of work by teams of CJF and UJA professionals, which all parties say was key in helping break down psychological barriers. “The result of their deliberations was our starting point,” said Dr. Conrad Giles, the president of CJF. “They discovered the bridge required to bring together the two cultures” was not that vast. He and others said the committee profited from lessons learned from the collapse of the previous effort. “We had lived through the elongated process and come out with very little to show,” Giles said. “There was a sense the federations would believe we were less relevant” if no action was taken, he added. Richard Wexler, national chairman of UJA, said the earlier initiative helped drive home the point that “we needed to take this process one step at a time. We bit off too much last time.” Another big change, said Wexler, was “no one going in demanding a floor or a guarantee” from federations for their overseas allocations. Instead, there is a commitment of the system “to focus on equitable sharing of resources for Jewish needs at home as well as overseas, as a single national polity.” Local federations autonomously decide how much of their campaign money to keep at home and how much to allocate to UJA for distribution overseas. The UJA portion has steadily been declining, worrying advocates of overseas needs. One of these advocates, Shoshana Cardin, chair of the United Israel Appeal, which is a co-owner of UJA and distributes the campaign money to Israel, expressed confidence in the new plan. She agreed that the incremental approach of the new process was key to its success because it helped to build trust. “The trust level has to be secure,” said Cardin, who had registered concern over how the previous plan could ensure a fair distribution of resources. For his part, Giles conceded that “there will continue to be a tension within the system” over the way allocations are balanced between local and overseas needs. “There never will be enough to take care of” all the needs, he said. But he and other proponents of the plan say the consolidated system will be able to raise more money overall and that that invariably will translate into more money for overseas needs. “We don’t have all the answers,” Wexler said. “But common ownership of the enterprise has the potential for us to develop a vision for the 21st century, to raise more money and to save more money.” Details of the plan will be circulated to federations and others in the fund-raising system. For his part, Stephen Solender, executive vice president of the UJA- Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, said he was “very upbeat” about the latest developments and that they augured well for the future. “What I’ve heard from the New York leadership and my colleagues around the country suggests to me the potential for widespread support,” he said. “There will be a sense that an important first step has been taken.”

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