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Alan Gill’s vision for the JDC

After a six-month search, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee on Monday named an insider as its next CEO: Alan Gill, currently the JDC’s executive director of international relations.

The CEO post was vacated when Steve Schwager abruptly announced his retirement in May (effective June 30). Gill will take over from interim CEO Darrell Friedman on Jan. 31, 2013.

I talked to Gill on Monday about his plans and priorities for the JDC.

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A 20-year veteran of the JDC who came to the organization from the federation world, Gill has been an architect of the JDC’s strategy to wean itself off dependency on the federations. In his current post, Gill oversees JDC’s development strategy, board recruitment, and marketing and communications. He also serves on a global executive team that advises the CEO.

“When I came to the JDC many years ago, it was very clear to me that the past would not be the future and that we would need to diversify the organization to ensure its future,” Gill told me. “With the major philanthropic changes, it was very clear to me JDC had to make some assertive changes to its whole operating model.”

At the time he came on board in 1993, the JDC’s budget came entirely from the precursors to the Jewish Federations of North America (the Council of Jewish Federations and United Israel Appeal / United Jewish Appeal).

Today, only about $60 million of the JDC’s annual budget of $350 million comes from the federations.

But that diminishes the value of the federation dollar, Gill says. For one thing, nearly 50 percent of the JDC’s $70 million in unrestricted funds comes from the federations. For another, the JDC leverages its federation dollars in partnerships with donors, foundations, the Israeli government and the Claims Conference to multiply every federation dollar by a factor of nearly five, Gill says.

“Federation dollars enable us to go to major foundations, the Israeli government and restitution sources and say, ‘Please be our partners,’” Gill told me. “That’s what’s enabled us to grow our programs immensely.”

The JDC’s funding model is set to undergo even more change in the coming years, as the federations move away from the old model of automatically sending all overseas dollars to the JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel along a 25/75 percent split. Under the new model, called the Global Planning Table, federations are collaboratively deciding on overall priorities and then will allocate overseas money accordingly. JDC reasons that this new arrangement, while somewhat riskier, gives it a shot at getting a bigger slice of the pie.

“I think it’s positive that we move away from a formulaic way of dividing monies,” Gill said. “I believe that the donors would want funds to follow priorities. I see any change that is truly seeking to have a serious assessment of needs as a positive development.”

As for the Global Planning Table itself – which has been slow to get off the ground — Gill said the jury’s still out. “Change is hard, particularly when you’re dealing with a collective,” he said.

At the JDC, Gill suggests the strategy will be more of the same, with priority No. 1 aiding Jews in need with things like food, medicine and home care.

“We have huge challenges that are ongoing,” Gill said. “We are caring for — without question in my mind — the neediest Jews with the softest voice in the world: Jews in former Communist countries, specifically the elderly and kids. There are over 200,000 needy people that we’re now caring for.”

Gill says his larger global vision is to improve shared practices at the JDC from region to region and grow programs designed to reach out to “next-generation” Jews.

“Our mission is operationalizing global Jewish responsibility,” Gill said. “We don’t talk peoplehood; we do peoplehood, day in, day out.”

Here’s where the JDC spends its money around the world:
FSU: 42 percent
Israel: 40 percent
Central & Eastern Europe: 12 percent
Latin America: 4 percent
Africa and Asia: 2 percent

Gill will be leaving Israel, where he has lived for the past two decades, to take the CEO job in New York.

“We’ll be back — how many years I leave to providence,” he said.

Though he’s been commuting back and forth to New York for years as chief fundraiser for the JDC, Gill’s more of a Midwestern boy. He grew up in Cleveland and was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Columbus, Ohio before going to work for the JDC.

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