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DENVER—Set in stone for years, the mathematics of overseas funding in the Jewish Federation system just became malleable.
Up until Tuesday, the American Jewish community could count on three things: death, taxes, and that 75 percent of the overseas portion of Federations’ annual campaign revenues would go to the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), with the other 25 percent left for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).
However, following the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) 2011 General Assembly in Denver, the JFNA Board of Trustees overwhelmingly approved a more flexible and needs-based overseas model called the Global Planning Table—a “renewed structure and process for Jewish Federations and their partners to analyze the needs of the Jewish people in Israel and 70 nations across the globe, determine priorities, and assess the impact of philanthropic giving,” according to the umbrella organization.
“The relationship [between the Federation, JDC and JAFI] is not about the [funding] split,” Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of JFNA, said in an interview with JointMedia News Service in Denver. “The relationship is about the fact that in the last 80-plus years, the Federation has counted on the JDC and the Jewish Agency for Israel to be our arms to deliver our mission both in caring for the vulnerable across the globe, with JDC, and in building the state of Israel, with the Jewish Agency.”
JDC—which provides relief as well as identity, culture, and social programs for Jews in more than 70 countries—initially received almost all its funding from the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) and allocated funds based on priorities it identified around the world. But by 2008, nine years after UJA merged with the Council of Jewish Federations and United Israel Appeal (UIA) to form United Jewish Communities (now JFNA), just 13 percent of its funding came from Federation,according to “Mission, Meaning, And Money: How the Joint Distribution Committee Became a Fundraising Innovator,” published in 2010 by Mark I. Rosen.
After the creation of the state of Israel, JDC took a backseat to the UIA with respect to Federation dollars, and a 25/75 percent funding split between JDC and UIA stabilized in the early 1950s, with JDC receiving the smaller portion. Before Tuesday, the same 25/75 split existed between JDC and JAFI.
In recent years, JDC negotiated with JAFI for a larger portion of unrestricted JFNA funds. Tensions arose on April 29, 2010 when JDC notified its board members that if JFNA refused to change the 25/75 funding split, JDC would break its policy of consulting with individual federations before fundraising in local communities (to make sure their activities wouldn’t harm federations’ annual campaigns). But on May 17, 2010, JDC backed off that announcement.
Silverman told JointMedia News Service that in 2009 at Federation leadership institute conference in Florida, there was a “very strong decree, frankly, from the [individual] federations, that they wanted to create a new space where we can take on the biggest challenges of the day, and where we could work in new and different ways with our partners who really have been our historic arms in delivering our mission.”
The result is the new Global Planning Table (GPT), which according to JFNA “is designed to stir new involvement among current Jewish Federation supporters and engage those not yet a part of our collective effort.” The GPT “will be of, by and for the Federation system, with numerous opportunities for participation across all city sizes and regions,” JFNA said.
“As we’ve evolved over time, we’ve seen trend changes and shifts in the marketplace and we’ve seen the collective itself, the 157 Federations, begin thinking about things more singularly than collectively,” Silverman told JointMedia News Service. “We realized that from the point of our process we had not had a place where the Federations could really come could together and really thinl about the biggest challenges that we face as a Jewish people—where we engage people, where we educate people, where we bring people to the work itself.”
Silverman said JFNA expects that under this new model, JDC and JAFI “will be in the best position to continue to help us in delivering our mission.”
“We think by doing this, the byproduct is that we’re frankly going to have the ability to raise more resources and be able to do more in making a difference in the world,” he said.
JFNA said the GPT “will work toward a key goal of promoting higher levels of charitable giving by building “stronger and more coordinated fundraising, marketing and communications among JFNA, federations and our global partners, including JDC and JAFI.
“Ultimately, the GPT will serve as the hub of a communal system that fosters education, sparks new dialogue and engages deep commitment to meet global Jewish needs,” JFNA Board Chair Kathy Manning said in a statement.
Jacob Kamaras is the Editor-in-Chief of JNS.