At a time when Jewish federations across the country are facing a declining donor base, UJA-Federation of New York not only increased the number of contributors this year but also recorded another record year in gift giving.
For the campaign that ended June 30, the charity raised $133.4 million, a nearly $4 million increase over last year and a $16 million increase in the last four years, according to its executive vice president, John Ruskay.
"After years of predictions that the annual campaign was anachronistic, the record of the last four years reflects a renewed recognition of the indispensable role of UJA-Federation’s agencies in New York, Israel and throughout the world," he said. "The $134 million raised this year is a strong endorsement of our leadership’s commitment to reassert the urgency of UJA-Federation as a ‘Jewish philanthropic mutual fund.’"
Although he said figures were not yet available, UJA-Federation president James Tisch, said there were a "significant number of new gifts, and I assume many were from young people."
"We’re trying to communicate the message of who we are and what we do, and maybe it’s working," he said. "We have gotten the message out that there are many Jews here and in foreign countries who are very needy and that it is our obligation to help them. People are starting to understand that we are still bringing 60,000 Jews a year from the former Soviet Union to Israel, and that we are trying to deal with the people in Ethiopia who claim to be Jewish and want entry to Israel."
Locally, Tisch said, UJA-Federation’s system of 100 agencies, excluding hospitals, "provides $1 billion of service, and many could not open their doors without the annual contribution they get from UJA-Federation."
It is estimated that there are 185,000 Jews living in or near poverty in the New York area. Tisch said that although traditionally it was the isolated elderly who lived in poverty, "they have been joined by tens of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Iran and Syria who often arrive penniless."
"Hunger and poverty are issues that really hit home," Tisch said. "We remain the premier philanthropy when it comes to improving people’s lives, whether delivering meals to the homebound, helping people cope with disease, bringing Jews to Israel, or providing refugee relief in regions of conflict."
In addition to the annual campaign, UJA-Federation’s capital fund raised $22 million, bringing that 12-year campaign to $1.07 billion. When combined with money raised by planning giving and endowments, the organization brought in more than $200 million.
Michael Fischer, an assistant vice president of the United Jewish Communities, which represents 189 Jewish federations in North America, said it was to UJA-Federation’s credit that it was able to turn around a precipitous drop in donors. He noted that the 1998 campaign had 80,000 donors, a drop of 10,000 contributors. The organization recovered 3,500 donors in 1999, and this year it picked up another 200.
"The fact that they have continued the upward trend is a positive thing for a community like New York," said Fischer, who noted that across the country Jewish federations have been finding fewer and fewer donors for the past several years.
He pointed out that nationwide there has been significant increases in the money raised by federations. In the U.S. in 1994, he said, federations raised $715 million. By December of this year, that figure could rise to nearly $815 million.
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The UJA-Federation campaign had been flat for several years until jumping by $6 million last year.