Despite Weak Markets, Gifts Stay Strong


Global financial markets are anticipating a downturn, the word “recession” is being whispered on Wall Street and, as a result, holiday bonuses at the large banks and investment houses may be considerably lower this year. But those worries failed to dampen last week’s Wall Street Dinner, the annual event organized by the Wall Street and Financial Services Division of UJA-Federation of New York.

Instead, more than 1,000 financial professionals turned out for the Dec. 5 event, raising a record $21.6 million, said Richard Spitz, director of the division. The figure represents an increase of $100,000 over last year.

Well-known among Wall Street power brokers, this year’s dinner honored two business leaders: Richard A. Friedman, managing director of Goldman Sachs, and Larry Robbins, the founder, portfolio manager and CEO of Glenview Capital Management. The event, held at the New York Hilton, also featured a brief address by Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, as well as two opportunities for networking and schmoozing: a cocktail hour and a party featuring desserts and casino games.

Discussing the record amount raised by the dinner, Stuart Tauber, a senior vice president of UJA-Federation, acknowledged the “upheaval” that concerns much of the financial world. “We know that some firms have taken big hits,” he said, “but we also know that some firms are doing very well.”

Meanwhile, those who have contributed to the campaign are making a statement, Tauber continued: “We can’t let our challenges become the Jewish community’s challenges.” The donors, he said, realize that while New Yorkers are struggling to make ends meet, “they’ve gotten a much larger share of the bounty,” whatever the size of their bonuses. “I’m not surprised that the people who feel the most blessed feel the need to be there for those most in need.”

Federation President John M. Shapiro, the co-founder of an investment management business, used much the same language to explain the generosity of the division’s members. They recognize that “as challenging as the [financial] environment is, it’s so much more challenging for the people we help.” He also cited a certain “trust factor” regarding Federation, saying that donors know that the contributions they make will go to those in need.

The uncertainty on Wall Street may have been reflected, though, in other figures.

Spitz said that some donors who normally make a pledge by this time of year still haven’t done so this year. Although the number of those waiting is higher than last year, “it’s not a whole lot,” he said. They come mainly from firms that are experiencing a difficult year.

The record $21.6 million represents at least 850 gifts, somewhat fewer than last year, Spitz said. But the figure also represents more than 100 new donors, twice as many as in 2006.

The Wall Street and Financial Services Division encompasses professionals in all areas of the financial world, Spitz said. Those include the traditional “sell side,” represented by stock brokers; the “buy side,” represented by mutual funds and hedge funds; and investment-banking houses, like Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns. Goldman Sachs is having a terrific year, while Bear Stearns is having a dismal period.

“The room represented the full diversity of the Wall Street community,” Spitz said. “This isn’t like a hedge-fund dinner; it’s not a banking dinner; it’s not a mergers and acquisitions dinner — it’s everybody.”

The gathering also seems to be getting “younger and younger,” Tauber said — a trend that pleases Federation leaders. There was a time, he said, when Federation leaders feared that younger people wouldn’t pick up the ball from the organization’s older supporters, but those concerns have disappeared.

Four of those young professionals spoke to the Jewish Week at the dinner, the division’s marquee fund-raising event. All four — a 22-year-old, a 24-year-old and two 26-year-olds — said the evening marked the first time they attended the dinner, to which they were invited by senior managers at their firms. The older members of their firms have helped educate them about philanthropy, in general, and Federation, in particular, said all four professionals, who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak for their companies.

The 22-year-old said he had come to the dinner to support “a worthy cause” and it seemed like “a nice way to meet people with a similar background.”

Asked about feelings of gloom among many of his colleagues, one of the 26-year-old professionals said: “No matter how bad things are on Wall Street, charities like UJA-Federation help others who have it a lot worse.”