Eight years after the creation of the United Jewish Communities, its leaders are planning to dramatically alter the structure and focus of the umbrella organization for North America s Jewish federations.
The most sweeping changes, according to an internal UJC document outlining the draft proposal, would include:
* The dissolution of the organization’s four pillars that until now have defined the group’s areas of focus. This would include the end to the Renewal and Renaissance pillar, whose focus on Jewish identity building and education had became central to the federation system after the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey showed a dramatic increase in the intermarriage rate.
* Shifting part of the operation to an expanded Israel office, where a major function would be to reach out to wealthy philanthropists in that country and the former Soviet Union. This global outreach appears to be a significant departure for a system that has focused on North American donors. The reorganization essentially would create two teams, domestic and Israeli.
The plan, which is being circulated to individual federations, must be approved by the UJC’s board of trustees and possibly other governing bodies, according to UJC officials. The next board of trustees meeting is set for early June, but officials said they did not know if the board would have anything to vote on at that time.
UJC leaders say the changes are necessary to streamline a system that has not achieved the goals that were set when the organization was formed in 1999. Changes also are needed, they say, to adapt to a modern philanthropic world in which private foundations are achieving more than public philanthropy.
If we fail to move in this direction now, UJC, too, will lose momentum and fail to achieve the dreams that were envisioned for it, concludes the background paper, dated March 16, which emerged from a meeting of selected top lay and professional UJC leaders. UJC never lacked a vision; we have only lacked the full execution of well-laid plans. Let s not lose what may be our last chance to move forward.
The Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal merged in 1999 to form UJC with a dual mandate: to increase the dollars coming into stagnating federation campaigns, with a specific mandate to increase funds for overseas needs, and to give the federations more services for the fees they were paying their national organizations.
Neither has been fully successful.
The federation donor base shrunk from 630,486 donors in 1999 to 564,343 in 2005. And from 2001 to 2005, the last years for wh! ich numb ers are available, the combined campaigns of North America s federations, adjusted for inflation, were down by 11.1, according to official figures.
Despite repeated cuts to staff and services that since 1999 have brought its budget from $46.2 million to $38.7 million, UJC leaders say their organization is still seen as a bloated. They say the group’s structure complicates the decision-making process, as well as setting and following through on a clear vision.
The dues federations pay to UJC have been a point of contention, particularly for larger federations that do not feel they are receiving an adequate return in terms of services.
The top priorities in my mind in creating these two teams are to focus on global operations and to do a much better job of servicing our stakeholder federations, Howard Rieger, UJC’s president and CEO, told JTA.
UJC leaders say the reorganization is made even more critical considering the success of endowment funds, capital campaigns and recent emergency campaigns. In recent years the UJC system raised more than $4 billion in capital campaign money, another $358 million last year for its Israel Emergency Campaign and about $50 million in supplemental campaigns for overseas and domestic disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.
The changes are designed to help the federation system better articulate the needs of the Jewish people domestically and abroad, they say.
Joseph Kanfer, chair of the UJC’s board of trustees, told JTA that the background paper came after months of meetings with the UJC’s executive committee, conference calls with lay leadership and meetings among the four pillars that are being disbanded: Campaign/Financial Resource Development, Israel/Overseas, Human Services and Social Policy, and Jewish Renaissance and Renewal.
Kanfer said the pillars, which include some 800 lay volunteers from local federations, have become rife with overlap, have not communicated well with each other and have made it nearly impossible to create consensus.
The restructuring also appears to acknowledge that the federation system s traditional methods of courting major donors and reaching out to smaller donors, primarily through Super Sunday phonathons, need to be broadened.
It also suggests that the federation system needs to better tap into alternative revenue streams and to keep up with a philanthropic world that is becoming increasingly centered on private foundations, according to Jeffrey Solomon, the president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and a consultant on the original UJC merger.
A major role of the new Israel operation would be to reach out to the emerging class of Israeli philanthropists who are flush with cash from Israel s booming high-tech sector and from those who have benefited from the privatizing of Israel s economy, Rieger said.
At the same time, the background document said the office would reach out to new super-wealthy philanthropists in the former Soviet Union.
According to sources inside and outside UJC, Rebecca Caspi, executive director of worldwide human resource development for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, has been tapped to head the Israel office.
Rieger would not confirm this, saying only that UJC has had serious negotiations with someone but that the organization was not ready to make an announcement.
It is unclear how that would affect Doron Krakow, the current UJC vice president for Israel and overseas. Krakow would not comment.
The Israel office would act as a liaison between the individual federations and the recipients of federation money overseas, primarily the Jewish Agency for Israel and the JDC.
Some 18 individual federations have offices in Israel, but UJC would like to bring them all under the umbrella of its expanded Israel entity. That office would also handle mission planning in an attempt to deliver a unified message about Israel s needs, according to the background paper.
The Israel office also would be charged with needs assessment, program evaluation and overseas allocations, meaning the UJC would keep a better eye on how exactly its donors dollars are being spent overseas — in tune with a new philanthropic world in which donors want more control over how their charity is allocated.
Domestically, the Campaign/Financial Resource Development pillar, which traditionally helped federations run their campaigns, would be folded into UJC Consulting, which is charged primarily charged with helping federations develop new strategic plans and community development.
By consolidating, UJC hopes it can identify the best fund-raising methods and help apply them to individual federations.
A major part of the plan involves UJC helping local federations figure out how to work with private foundations, which since 1990 have exploded.
Jewish foundations, with assets in excess of $30 billion, pump more money into the Jewish community than all of the federation campaigns combined. Those foundations have yielded the creation of landmark Jewish initiatives, such as birthright israel, which has provided free Israel trips to some 100,000 Jews aged 18 to 26, and B nei Tzedek, a project of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation that teaches early teenagers how to become young philanthropists.
Despite the dissolution of the Renaissance and Renewal pillar, which focused on Jewish identity building, education and outreach to the young, Kanfer said the federation system is not abandoning those issues, but wants to work with other existing programs and develop some new ones.
At federations across the country, the reaction to the proposals appears to be wait-and-see.
The restructuring can mean so many different things, said Barry Shrage, CEO of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. It s hard to tell what is going on in the minds of the leadership.
UJC s two main overseas recipients, the Jewish Agency for Israel and JDC, also are in a holding pattern to learn how the reorganizing might affect them. Traditionally they have received nearly 100 percent of the UJC s overseas budget, though in recent years each has engaged in its own direct fund raising in North America.
Though there has been some grumbling, particularly from JAFI lay leaders upset that they were not consulted on the restructuring, Kanfer said they would be meeting with the groups soon.
JAFI and JDC are going to be full partners at the table, he said.