FOCUS ON ISSUES Federations begin to re-examine process of funding needs abroad
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FOCUS ON ISSUES Federations begin to re-examine process of funding needs abroad

NEW YORK, Aug. 17 (JTA) — The 11th of August may have seemed like an ordinary Wednesday, but that summer afternoon marked the start of a transformation in the way many American Jews send funds to Israel and other parts of the Jewish world. Gathered in a hotel in Manhattan were representatives of more than a dozen Jewish community federations from around the country, together with the heads of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The group was there to lay the groundwork for determining how the dollars raised for overseas needs by federations in their annual campaigns will be spent, and by whom. What made the first meeting of the United Jewish Communities” Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee “historic and dramatic,” in the words of UJC”s acting President Stephen Solender, was that it turned most of the decision- making power over to the federations. That shift in control was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the UJC, which emerged this spring from the merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal. Since its “Founders Forum” in April, several significant steps have been taken toward setting up the revamped fund-raising and social service organization. Other necessary elements of the merger — including hiring a chief professional officer and receiving New York State approval — have yet to be concluded. Of all the changes, however, the most anticipated — and perhaps the most sensitive — is the creation of the overseas committee, which is known by its acronym, ONAD. “The critical thing,” said Alan Jaffe, a lawyer in New York who chairs ONAD, “is that for the first time since the formation of the UJA in 1939, you have the providers of funds sitting down directly with the major providers of services.” In the past, the JDC and the UIA, on behalf of the Jewish Agency, worked out among themselves how to divvy up the funds raised for the United Jewish Appeal by the federations. In 1998, local federations raised $300 million for overseas Jewish needs worldwide, of which about two-thirds went to the Jewish Agency and a little less than one-third to the JDC. The remainder went to NYANA, the New York-based refugee resettlement agency, and to cover overhead costs. By signing on to the merger, federations agreed to maintain for two years their overseas allocations at 1998 levels in order to stabilize JDC and the Jewish Agency while ONAD completes its initial work. In its first meeting last week, ONAD came up with guidelines for an assessment of global Jewish needs and a plan for the next 10 months. A two-year plan — effective Jan. 1, 2001 — is due from the 25-member committee next June. Part of the committee”s charge is determining what are “core” needs — such as the rescue of Jews in danger — to which all federations will contribute, and what are “elective” needs, which federations can pursue on a selective basis. Some insiders point out that the Jewish Agency and the JDC have decades of experience with rescue, relief and education work and should continue to be promoted as the main providers of such services. Depending on the ONAD committee”s allocation plan, however, the Jewish Agency and the JDC may have to compete with other organizations working in those areas that may be desirous of UJC funding. With the creation of the “federation-owned” allocations process, “they no longer have the guarantee that the money is going to come in,” said Eva Lynn Gans, the president of the Bergen County, N.J., federation. “They need us to buy in” to their mission and plans, she said. The new system may also promote funding for individual projects and programs, rather than for agencies themselves. Ideas for such innovations in overseas allocations come straight from the experience of federations, whose leaders are eager to respond to the interests of their donors. “People are tired of throwing money into a big, dark hole, and not knowing exactly where it”s going,” said Lucy Pruzan, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle. “I think we would do better in overseas allocations if we can target specific projects and areas so we know where the money is going.” In fact, it was in part a response to a growing trend among federations to redirect some of their overseas funds to projects in Israel of their own choosing that led to the creation of the new national entity. “It”s hard to raise money when you don”t have a real feel for how truly and effectively the money”s being used,” said James Rosenstein of Philadelphia who, as the Northeast regional chair, is a member of the UJC”s Transition Cabinet. But, he said, there is “real concern on the part of the Jewish Agency and the JDC” that relinquishing control of the distribution of funds will open the way for federations to make “all kinds of arbitrary decisions.” The voluntary nature of the new system has already been made clear. In June, the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston decided to give $1 million directly to the JDC, deducting that figure from its contribution to UJC. The move was spurred by what Boston”s board saw as the pressing need of feeding hungry Jews in the former Soviet Union and in Ethiopia — needs Boston felt were losing ground on the national agenda. According to Barry Shrage, the president of the Boston federation, the board felt those needs could not wait two years while the ONAD committee decided what the UJC”s funding priorities would be. Asked by UJC”s highest leadership to reconsider the move, Shrage said Boston “won”t cut back on allocations to JDC, but we”ll see if we can bring that UJC line back up. “We respect the national system. They asked us to look at it, we”ll look at it.” It is too early to comment on what direction ONAD”s eventual prescription for overseas allocations will take, committee members say. Most of the ONAD committee”s members are representatives of 18 federations, selected by city-size groupings. ONAD”s federation representatives must “consult with the federations in their regions. And they”ve got to constantly be checking back” with similar-sized federations, Solender said. Other changes afoot this summer include:
* The four “pillars”: The UJC is based on four content areas — Jewish Renaissance and Renewal, Israel/Overseas, Health and Social Policy, and Financial Resource Development. This summer a task force for each pillar worked to develop recommendations for UJC operations in each area. The proposals will be presented to the UJC”s Transition Cabinet at an Aug. 29 meeting in Los Angeles.
* Stakeholders meetings: In order to increase “bottom up” involvement by local federations — particularly smaller federations and federations in communities west of the Mississippi — the UJC held four regional meetings with national and local leadership. According to participants, the well-attended two-day meetings helped clarify for the national leaders particular concerns among the regions. The geographic focus also helped foster a sense of local collaboration, several participants said.
* The search for a CEO: The yearlong search for a top professional continues in well-guarded secrecy. Insiders say that leaks to the press might have hampered the sensitive job search in the past. Stephen Solender, who serves as the executive vice president of the UJA-Federation of New York, took the position on an interim basis in April to fill out the leadership team of Charles Bronfman, board chair, and Joel Tauber, chairman of the executive committee. Solender”s term is set to end Oct. 15.
* Staff changes: Jay Yoskowitz, former CJF executive vice president, and Harold Adler, former senior associate vice president for administration and management, left the UJC. Steven Ain, executive vice president of UIA Federations Canada was appointed UJC”s interim chief operating officer. Meanwhile, James Lodge, the former federation executive in Buffalo, took over the top professional post on the ONAD committee. Barry Swartz, former head of the Southeast region, now oversees all five regions.
* Legal merger: Ultimately, the creation of the merger of the three entities — UJA, CJF and UIA — must be approved by New York state. Solender said he expects the remaining legal issues to be wrapped up by the end of October. Until then, however, the old organizations retain a shadow existence.
Signs of progress on all of the outstanding fronts will be a relief to many people who have been waiting for the merger to re-energize the national system. “The important thing is that we”re building a much more efficient and attentive organization,” said Michael Newmark, a lawyer and past president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis who chairs the Central region. “And I think there”s a good feeling that while things are moving slowly, they”re moving in the right direction.””