The concerns of small-city federations


Far from the world of huge endowments there are dozens of small Jewish federations in places you might not suspect, places like Merrimack County in Massachusetts, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and El Paso Texas.

Most have communities in the low thousands, if that, and annual campaigns that run well below $1 million. 

But they are part of the lifeblood of the federation system, and as the JFNA tries to prove its value as the central organization of the federation system, one of the chief struggles it has is making sure that these federations feel that they get value for the dues they pay.

I sat in this morning for a few minutes on a workshop for small federations that started with a brainstorming session about what problems they would like help solving. Several dozen volunteers and professionals from the federations sat around tables discussing their needs, and then a moderator opened up the podium for participants to make them open to public discussion.

The table at which I sat discussed how to make federation donors out of  the parents of the children in her small community who are receiving free Jewish books as part of the PJ Library program started by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

But the questions raised publicly offer a pretty decent snapshot into what the federations would like from their umbrella organization.

In the anonymous words of the small city execs who spoke out:

  • How can the federation get he donors to increase their gifts when so few people want to give more?
  • I sometimes have a hard time getting my solicitors to come int for training because the have [made the same pitch] for 10 years.? How can I get them in for training?
  • How can we get our synagogue, temple and federation to come together under one campus?
  • How can we engage people in more than just giving dollars, but in leadership?
  • How do you get donors to give areas beyond their own interests?
  • How do we help our affiliated organizations become their own 501c3 nonprofits?
  • How do we avoid competing for funds with the organizations we support?
  • What is the value and necessity of a demographic survey? is it really worth doing?

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