In major shift, federation lets donors direct gifts
Seeking to fulfill its $2 million campaign goal and give contributors a greater stake in the organized Jewish community, the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County launched a new policy of donor-directed philanthropy at its Passover pledge drive last month.
Rather than collecting one pool of funds and apportioning them later, contributors will be allowed to choose where they wish their dollars to be spent.
“It is a concept that our federation is doing to re-envision itself and create a new way for the community to look at its philanthropic giving,” president Stuart Abraham told NJJN April 12. “We need to reinforce the concept that donors to the federation are really owners of where the money goes.”
Contributors will be given five choices for pledging.
They include money for Israel and overseas projects, people in need in Monmouth County, Jewish education and continuity, and community programs for people of all ages. A fifth choice would allow a donor’s money to go “wherever it is needed the most.”
To campaign vice president Sheri Tarrab of Holmdel, the change “is a complete paradigm shift in our fund-raising model. It presents opportunities so the community can set its priorities,” she told NJJN in an April 4 phone interview. “We hope to not only increase revenue but increase donor participation, and this will increase the donor base.”
Last year, the campaign suffered a shortfall. “We had a $1.85 million goal, and we came in at $1.83 million,” said Tarrab. “This year I am increasing the goal and hoping to do better.”
Tarrab said she believes the new system will pay off because “the world is becoming much more consumer-oriented, and donors in a sense are consumers. If the donors become the owners of their gift and can select core priority areas, it reflects our understanding of the priorities of the Jewish community.”
But there is concern that less popular areas could get shortchanged by the new system.
“We don’t have an answer but what we decided was, we are going to see how it plays out — and if that problem arises,” said Bert Goldberg, the federation’s interim executive director. “But I think people are going to be judicious in their choices.”
Donor-directed allocations is a growing trend in the broader world of philanthropy.
“It is not just Jewish,” said Robert Evans, managing director of The EHL Consulting Group, a Philadelphia firm that advises charities on fund-raising approaches. The Monmouth County federation is one of its clients in a rebranding project.
“When you look at the giving results over the last seven years, even though 2008 was the best year ever for giving in America, it was not the best year for traditional umbrella campaigns — United Way and Catholic Charities as well as Jewish federations,” Evans told NJJN. “We have seen increases in giving, but serious decreases to traditional umbrella campaigns. Donors want to touch directly the projects and organizations they are supporting.”
The change “has been an evolutionary process,” said Abraham. “People want more control over where their money goes and a greater sense that their money is being distributed efficiently. Our expectation is the ability to direct philanthropic gifts will increase the campaign.”
Goldberg called it “a really exciting change. I am more than optimistic. I think it is going to make a tremendous difference.”
Tarrab said the move “brings our federation into the 21st century.”
She said she expects to receive frequent reports on where the earmarked contributions are going, and called the donors “an ideal focus group. It will show us where the community’s passions lie. By Super Sunday in December we will know where each donor has come in and what area they chose.”