JDC faces significant budget crunch

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is facing a significant budget shortfall, according to recent communications from its CEO, Steven Schwager.

Schwager wrote to his board in his July 7 newsletter with some good news — that the organization had been selected as a 4-star charity by the online charity evaluator, charitynavigator.org. But this apparently was the first time in a while he has relayed good tidings.

The Joint is in the early stages of planning its budget for 2010, according to Schawger’s previous letter, dated June 30, and is anticipating a significant budget deficit — most of which he seems to be laying in the lap of the federation system and its umbrella organization, the UJC/Jewish Federations of North America.

About 20 percent of the Joint’s budget, which in 2009 is $332 million, is made up of undesignated funds given by donors for core operating expenses. The UJC provides the lion’s share of that. In May 2009, the Joint had $73.8 million in undesignated funds, of which the UJC and the federation system provided $37 million. But the picture for 2010 is much worse, as the Joint is anticipating a 12 percent budget cut, Schwager said in the newsletter:

Our 2010 best estimates at this point are that only $66.1 million of undesignated funds will be available. This represents a shortfall of $7.8 million for 2010. The majority of the shortfall is expected to be the result of reduced overseas support from the UJC/Federation system.

Given the Board’s balanced budget policy, if we do not find new sources of funds, an $8 million reduction in undesignated funds will mean a significant reduction in our programs and activities across the globe. As you know, we leverage our undesignated funds on a ratio of four to one. This reduction in undesignated funds of $8 million could translate into an overall budget reduction of about $40 million in 2010.

Schwager also hints at layoffs:

In the last seven years during my tenure as CEO and EVP, thanks to changes in our methods of operation, we have reduced our staff complement from 948 in 2003 to 766 in 2009. This is a reduction of 20 percent and our 2010 numbers will be even lower.

This follows 40 layoffs that were made last June, that were accompanied by cuts in programing.

But in truth, Schwager said in another letter dated June 9, the Joint has no real way of knowing how it should project its budget because it has no idea how much money it will get from the federations even for this year, as the system has been giving less than it promised:

At the May 2009 meetings, we reduced the amount of money we expect to receive in 2009 from the UJC system by an additional $2 million. Our 2009 budget is now projecting about $37 million from UJC.

Our finance staff, however, has already reported an even greater shortfall than anticipated in UJC funding thus far this year. As most of you know, the majority of federation funding comes to JDC at year end when people pay their pledges. By the end of May 2008, we had received annual campaign funds of $7.6 million. In 2009, we have received only $3.4 million for this same period, meaning we are already short $4.2 million in 2009. How can we project what our 2010 annual unrestricted revenue from UJC will be given current data?

The answer simply is we cannot. Last week, in order to ensure our fiscal stability, I met with my senior Hanhalla staff and spent a day developing various scenarios of funding and—based on the goals outlined in the Board-approved Strategic Visioning Report—discussing what programs can be reduced, eliminated or suspended. We also discussed where additional revenue may be found. All program areas were on the table.

The next step will be to meet with lay leadership to discuss and jointly develop options to take to the Board in October. Inevitably, 2010 will be a very tough year for JDC.

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