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Federation System Reports Campaigns Are on the Rise

Things are looking up for North America’s most broad-based Jewish fund-raising campaign.

According to the final tally last week, UJA Federations of North America’s 1998 annual campaign brought in $763 million — up $26 million over 1997 — with 107 of the system’s 189 federated Jewish communities reporting significant increases in their individual campaigns.

“Obviously, the prevailing wisdom that the campaign has not been healthy is quite wrong,” said Carole Solomon, the United Jewish Appeal’s national campaign chair.

The upswing, Solomon and other UJA officials say, is part of a positive trend they expect to continue into the 1999 campaign.

The annual campaign totals represent moneys collected by local federations for community agencies and projects and for the UJA, which provides money for Jewish needs around the world through the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

The 1998 annual campaign is the first to be billed under the banner of UJA Federations of North America, the new entity formed by the union of the UJA, the United Israel Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations. The merger is expected to be finalized at a national meeting of federation representatives in April.

The most surprising success story at federations across the country may be the growing number of alternatives to campaign fund-raising that have evolved over the past two decades. Such alternatives include endowment and other donor- advised funds.

“Different things turn on different people,” said Robert Aronson, the executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit.

“Over the years, I think we’re going to be seeing slow growth in the annual campaign if we do it right. But we could see dramatic growth in endowment” and capital campaigns.

“The dollars are there — it’s a question of finding something that is right for the contributor in the area of Jewish life.”

Whereas general contributions to campaigns are pooled and allocated according to prearranged formulas and committee recommendations, new funding options for donors put more decision-making power in their hands.

“Endowments and foundations launched 20 years ago are now in high gear,” said Donald Kent, vice president for development and marketing for the Council of Jewish Federations.

These new philanthropic outlets attract donors because they offer direct involvement in grant-making, tax benefits and the opportunity for personal recognition.

Their contributions in turn provide federations with investment instruments for long-term income.

Kent noted that federations have accumulated more than $6 billion in assets from those funding sources during the last two decades.

Contrary to some fund-raisers’ fears that the annual campaign would have to compete with endowments and restricted funds, the funding streams are proving to be mutually beneficial, UJA officials say.

In 1998, $230 million was contributed to permanent endowments, while $900 million poured in to over 7,000 donor-advised funds and foundations.

During the same period, $540 million was contributed from endowments and foundations to specific projects and charities, including some secular charities. Of these grants, $140 million went directly into the annual campaign of the federations.

Often donors who establish endowments will be “your most loyal customer, the person who has been supporting the campaign for a long time,” Solomon said.

“The nature of an endowment,” explained Solomon, “is that it’s locked in for a period of time,” as opposed to the annual campaign, which depends on the “fickle finger of fate.”

In 1993, for example, the campaign dipped from $727 million to $715 million and then hovered at $718 million in 1994 and 1995, according to Michael Fischer, a vice president at UJA.

Funds raised by federations in Canada — $84 million in 1998 — are not counted in the UJA’s annual campaign, because their overseas allocations are administered by Keren Hayesod, the international counterpart to UJA.

He attributed the decline to donors concentrating their energies on separate fund-raising drives from 1991 to 1994 in support of Operation Exodus, which helped Israel absorb hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

Recovering from those efforts, Fischer said, the campaign has been gaining momentum over the past three years, with an increase of $45 million overall between 1995 and 1998.

Officials said the momentum continued despite a brief period in which donations were adversely affected by donor concerns about religious pluralism-related issues in Israel.

Still, with an increase of 4.6 percent over last year, the 1998 campaign kept ahead of the inflation rate for the first time in more than a decade.

Some local federation leaders attribute new enthusiasm to efforts by community campaigns to strengthen the local Jewish community through both programming and infrastructure.

Others attribute the recent improvements to greater personal attention to donors.

“I think the stock market hasn’t hurt either,” said Mark Lichtenstein, the chair of the Atlanta Jewish Federation’s 1999 campaign, which, he reports, is up by $2 million compared to the same time last year.

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