Federation to base future funding on “compelling needs”

Organization to create new allocations model

by Marla Cohen 

pie chart illustrationIn a move designed to raise the profile and relevance of its giving in the eyes of the community and donors, the Jewish Federation of Rockland County will begin allocating to local organizations through a grant-based process responding to the compelling needs of the community.

The board of directors voted to change the way it allocates to local agencies early in March. In the past, the Federation, which raises about $800,000 annually through its campaign, has given general funding allocations to local agencies — which include JCC Rockland, Rockland Jewish Family Service, Hillel at Rockland Community College, the Holocaust Museum and Study Center in Spring Valley and Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School — have received an annual sum from the Federation after making a presentation to the allocations committee.

Over the next three years that model will change. The agencies will receive 80 percent of their 2010-2011 funding in the upcoming allocations cycle, which begins with the new fiscal year on July 1. The following year they will receive 50 percent of the 2010-2011 allocation, and in the third year, they will receive 20 percent of that funding. The agencies, however, may apply for grants that will be awarded based upon the compelling needs of the community. The Federation has formed a committee to better define what exactly those needs are for the coming year, and it may change from year to year, according to Nat Wasserstein, the Federation’s president-elect, who spearheaded the process to revamp how the Federation gives out the funds it raises.

“We’re doing this primarily for two reasons,” said Wasserstein, who will become president on July 1. “The first is for us to be a more prudent trustee of the funds that our donors entrust to us. The second reason is that this is more consistent with how people want to donate. They want to fund specific projects, not general overhead.”

The Federation’s annual campaign has remained flat during the past three years, which is consistent with national trends among other Jewish philanthropies and the result of a weak economy. Additionally, giving trends across the country find that donors, in particular younger ones, want to support identifiable, tangible needs. The prevailing thought is that donors prefer thematic giving, and the ability to act as a catalyst for change through such designated philanthropy.

“Our role is to build community,” said Diane Sloyer, the Federation’s executive director. “Studies have shown that people want to give to causes. They don’t want to give to turn on the lights. We don’t see this as a cut, but as a way to engage people in causes, something that we feel will work better in this community.”

The board sees this as an opportunity to build the Federation into an organization that will, along with community leaders, help define and set the agenda regarding Jewish Rockland’s needs. In the future, donors will be able to leverage their giving, and parlay it into matching grants for specific projects that speak to them, said Wasserstein. The Federation will continue to increase funds for projects in Israel through the Jewish Agency for Israel, and elsewhere overseas through the American Joint Distribution Committee.

According to Wasserstein, the board’s interest is to democratize the process and arrive at a community decision of what meets a compelling need in the Rockland Jewish community. The committee being formed to do this will incorporate members of the Federation’s board of directors, donors, and other community leaders, he said. They will come up with basic guidelines for a given year, and it could change, based on what seems pressing in the community at any given time, he said.

Nonetheless, the idea that Federation funding for general overhead will be reduced over the next three years at the agencies it currently supports, has created a certain amount of unease.

“I understand the rationale behind the shift in funding and I support the direction they are going in,” said Maria Dowling, chief executive officer of Rockland Jewish Family Service. The agency, which has an annual budget of $700,000, currently receives $84,000 from Federation, or 12 percent of its budget. Government funding to JFS has decreased in the past two years, she said, and although it has remained steady this year, it has not been restored to previous levels.

“Of course we are greatly concerned about any reduction in our funding, especially now when the needs in the community are great, but we certainly understand the Federation’s position.”

JCC Rockland currently receives $117,000 from the Federation, 2.4 percent of its nearly $4.8 million budget. David Kirschtel, the JCC’s chief executive officer, has seen Federation funding to the JCC decrease by 45 percent in the past decade, and the looming reduction is unsettling, he said.

“I’m hopeful the JCC will be able to gain back what’s being lost in core funding,” he said. “Everyone wants to fund projects, new initiatives and put their name on something. We understand it; of course, our donors want the same. But as some point, we also need funding to just keep the lights on and pay the bills. What happens when no one is willing to fund that anymore?”

Yisroel Schulman is president of the Center for Jewish Life/Hillel at SUNY Rockland and also sits on the Federation’s board of directors and executive board. Hillel currently receives $22,500 from the Federation, its largest contributor.

“It’s clear the Federation has charged us with the mission of turning to generous members of the community to fill the gap,” he said. “We are up to that challenge.”

But Wasserstein says the agencies and other community organizations, with plenty of new projects to nurture, will be able to get the funding they need on a project-by-project basis, simply by articulating that need clearly and making a compelling case.

“Whatever the agencies are trying to achieve has to come down to a particular service,” he said. “If that particular service is identified as something that still needs to be incubated and nurtured, that is what Federation is all about.”

Steve Gold, a former JCC president who is on the Federation’s executive board, said there was a clear feeling on the board that Federation needed to try something new, but did not want to devastate the agencies. The hope is that by creating needs based giving categories, more funds will come into Federation.

“I believe the agencies need to go into this with an open mind and see the results,” said Gold, who is chairing the compelling needs committee. “Because if Federation does better over the years, it means better funding for the agencies.”

April 1, 2011

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