With the new year has come a spectrum of new programs to engage the community, part of an outreach effort spearheaded by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. They range from educational and cultural offerings, to health-awareness and social events.
The initiative was born of two converging factors: a desire by donors to know how their money is being used, and pressure to ensure that scarce resources are being used effectively. A 15 percent slice of the funds allocated by the federation to its partner agencies was withdrawn from the pot; receiving that money was made contingent on coming up with very specific plans to reach more people, with clearly measurable results.
As federation executive vice president Stanley Stone explained, the goal was to inspire innovative thinking, with clear accountability.
Lay leaders Marcy Lazar and Pam Zaifman headed the committee that decided what organizations got the money, and for what projects.
Lazar said the new approach emerged from a strategic endeavor, undertaken in 2007, that was designed to clarify the federation’s core values: Torah (Jewish education), avodah (volunteerism), and gemilut hasadim (critical social services). With that in mind, she said, “federation convened some of its leaders to take a hard look at how well business was being conducted. It was not surprising to find that certain historic things needed some change, including — but not only — communal planning and allocations. Fund-raising and concurrent marketing efforts also needed some tweaking.”
Historically, the federation’s allocations to its partner agencies had been unrestricted. Within broad parameters, they could use the funds as they chose, for programming needs, for example, or for insurance costs. But the Central leadership spotted an emerging national trend toward specific “program-based” funding.
“We recognized that in these days of immediate access to facts and figures, donors wanted more detailed information on what their dollars were helping to accomplish,” Lazar said.
A complete change to program-based giving would be too sudden for the agencies, so the leaders decided to direct just a percentage of the annual campaign for that purpose. “And then the economy dropped out from beneath us all,” Lazar said, “We felt it prudent to put these plans on the back burner, knowing that our agencies’ budgets were being challenged by significant reductions from their outside funding sources.”
Then, at a federation leadership retreat one year ago, participants agreed that change had become imperative. The Communal Planning Think Tank was formed, composed of a cross-section of community leaders — agency executives and presidents; synagogue clergy, administrators, and presidents; and at-large leaders — to discuss priorities.
The group decided three areas called for prioritization: outreach and engagement, leadership development, and marketing and communications. Given the economy, there was no way to tackle all three areas effectively. They selected “Outreach and Engagement” — the effort to encourage more people to live Jewishly — as their first priority and decided that 15 percent of the allocable dollars would be directed to that purpose.
Given that education falls within the Outreach and Engagement goal, funding for that purpose was unaffected. Last September, 25 requests-for-proposals, or RFPs, were sent out to agencies, synagogues, local chapters of national organizations, and the federation’s overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The proposals had to be for a new program directed to non- and under-affiliated Jews within the federation’s geographic area, and in Israel.
The committee received 13 responses covering a broad spectrum and addressing almost every age group and denomination in the community. Those were then reviewed by a committee representing a cross-section of the community.
Lazar said a couple of requests were turned down and recommendations were made to combine some of the remaining ones in an effort to reduce overhead and staffing costs, in an effort to spread the dollars to as many groups as possible.
All grants required the grantee to sign a contract agreeing to a list of follow-up requirements, including interim reports, site visits, and marketing that included the federation. “We are very concerned that there be strong accountability for this funding,” she said. “We must be able to let the donors know what their dollars are helping accomplish.”
Grantees will receive their funding for a period of three years, if the annual campaign total permits, if they can demonstrate their success and continue to adhere to the stipulations of the funding contract.
Programs were to be up and running by this month, so it is too soon for any hard data on how they are progressing. But, Lazar said, “we will be checking in with them to make sure things are going as planned. I am very hopeful that the community will react positively to these new program offerings and this new allocations process.”
The new direction is “very exciting,” said Debbie Rosenwein, the federation’s director of planning and allocations. “It’s the first time that we have executed an RFP funding process through our annual allocations.
“Outreach and Engagement provides an opportunity for people to connect regardless of where they are Jewishly,” she said. “We want to give people the chance to discover or enhance their Jewish identity. The idea is to have various portals of entry into the community for each individual, making involvement accessible. By engaging people in some communal endeavor — social action, advocacy, fund-raising, education, etc. — we want to nurture a community of caring and social justice…strengthening Jewish peoplehood and collective responsibility.”
Tom Beck, executive director of Jewish Family Service of Central NJ, said the outreach grant has led to the development of a three-pronged effort involving community education — including a recent program for caregivers at Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains, a program supporting the activities of volunteers, and one that will be done in conjunction with Sharsheret, the organization the provides help and support for Jewish women with breast cancer.