B’nai B’rith Youth Appears to Be Finding Greener Pastures on Its Own

Two months ago, when B’nai B’rith International announced it would spin off its youth program into an independent nonprofit, leaders said the move would make it easier to raise money for the youth group.

If new gifts totaling $1 million from four mega-philanthropists are any indicator, the move seems to be paying off.

The donations — $250,000 each from Edgar Bronfman, Lynn Schusterman, Michael Steinhardt and Newton Becker — will fund regional offices and other needs for B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, one of the largest Jewish youth groups in North America.

The money also will compensate for the approximately $1 million decrease in allocations this year from B’nai B’rith, which — due to the fraternal organization’s ongoing financial and membership reductions — has consistently cut funds to BBYO in recent years.

Until the decision to make the BBYO independent, many involved with the 78-year-old nondenominational youth group had worried about its future.

According to B’nai B’rith officials, there are about 20,000 North American teens in BBYO, although last month BBYO’s Web site placed the number closer to 11,000. The site no longer provides membership statistics.

According to some insiders, major donors had been reluctant to contribute when BBYO was a B’nai B’rith department out of concern that gifts had to be channeled through B’nai B’rith, which could siphon money off the top.

This spring, the situation looked so bleak that an internal memo circulated to BBYO’s 39 regions warned that they might lose all national funding by July and would have to raise all their own money.

The regions vary in their dependence on the national office. Some raise large amounts locally or receive Jewish federation allocations, while others get almost their entire budget from B’nai B’rith.

However, the regions’ allocations will not be cut this year — and may even be increased — according to Richard Heideman, B’nai B’rith’s international president.

BBYO’s national operations will continue to receive office space, in-kind services and $1 million in funding from B’nai B’rith, but officials hope to continue to attract new donors.

The group is forming a new governance structure with representation from B’nai B’rith, teen-age leadership and philanthropists.

The changes will “stabilize BBYO, set it on a path for growth and expansion and keep B’nai B’rith International involved forever,” Heideman said.

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