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New federation funding plan seeks ‘impact’
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New federation funding plan seeks ‘impact’

The Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County has instituted a new way to allocate the money it raises.

Rather than provide “core funding” — sums allocated to community agencies for undesignated use — the federation is accepting applications from organizations for financial support for specific programs or projects.

To secure funding, the organizations — including synagogues and the federation itself — must be able to demonstrate the anticipated impact of the planned programs or projects.

In another innovation, the federation will convene on a regular basis professional and lay people from area institutions to together identify challenges and devise solutions — a practice that was done only sporadically in the past.

To familiarize community leaders with the new system — which the federation began transitioning toward in July 2012, the federation held seminars Oct. 3 and 6 that were mandatory for all local Jewish nonprofits intending to apply for funding in 2014-15.

Federation’s new model “ultimately reflects a shift in the way we explore communal needs, encourage partnership, and engage in thoughtful discourse with the community about funded projects,” said allocations chair Jeffrey Schwartz.

Eligible programs must serve the needs of Jewish clients living throughout Greater Middlesex County and meet one of federation’s local priorities: “caring for the vulnerable, attracting people to a more vibrant community, and inspiring the next generation to embrace Jewish life,” according to the federation’s mission statement.

Targets for such programs include vulnerable seniors, adults and children with special needs, and the unemployed; those that provide access to an array of Jewish experiences and engage underserved populations such as the unaffiliated, interfaith families, post-college students, or recent retirees; and informal activities that advance opportunities for Jewish learning, foster or reinforce Jewish identity, or strengthen Jewish educational settings, said federation planning and allocations director Laura Safran.

Organizations hoping to receive program funding were required to submit a Letter of Intent by Oct. 28 for grants being awarded July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. Following intensive committee review, some will be invited to submit more extensive Requests for Proposals in early winter. Programs funded last year are eligible to be refunded this year if they can demonstrate effectiveness.

The federation will pool all the dollars raised in the 2014 campaign with non-campaign resources earmarked for certain causes, Schwartz said. The amount of money allotted will be determined by the strength of the federation campaign.

The federation has also convened religious-school teachers and early educational directors for a skills-based Special Education Conference on Oct. 27, to identify opportunities for joint problem solving and programming.

“Federation encourages its communal partners to invest in themselves, and we provide training and support for capacity-building initiatives to help make all our organizations stronger. This speaks to federation’s commitment to convene the people, partners, and resources to meet needs and move the community forward,” said Schwartz.

Federation views these “capacity-building” efforts as critical to supporting the ability of nonprofit institutions to adapt and continue to serve as important vehicles for deepening Jewish identity and connections, said allocations committee member Adrienne Ross of Kendall Park.

Fifty-six participants representing 31 organizations, agencies, and synagogues attended the Oct. 3 seminar, where members of the allocations committee emphasized the importance of bringing everyone together to create a forum for sharing ideas and forging alliances. Dr. Barbara Bedney, director of human services and public policy at the Jewish Federations of North America, and allocation committee members conducted the interactive workshop on evaluating and measuring the impact of community programs.

Participants were shown how to lay out a “logic model” to include the steps necessary to identify a problem, determine short-term and long-term goals, and devise strategies for determining that any given program is on the right path to meeting those goals and ultimately solving the problem.

“Your logic model lays out your theory of change and helps you to develop consensus among those running a program,” Bedney told the group.

The logic model will be incorporated into federation’s program-funding application and its mid-year and post-year program evaluations. Assistance and support will be constantly provided by allocations committee members, staff, and Bedny.

Joseph Kahn, executive vice president of Congregation Etz Chaim-Monroe Township Jewish Center, came to the early October gatherings as a show of community support and to better integrate his synagogue into the larger community. “As an active synagogue member I thought we should be participating more fully in federation and more engaged with the Jewish community. I did this not only to support my temple, but the broader Jewish community in Middlesex,” he said, noting that his congregation’s and federation’s goals seem to dovetail.

“The new model, if done right, should be a positive thing because it allows agencies to maximize funding potential,” said Dorothy Rubinstein, executive director of the JCC of Middlesex County in Edison, who also attended the seminars. “From the agencies’ viewpoint, it will help us be more effective and think more carefully about the programs for which we are seeking funding. It will force us to be better planners and develop programs in the community’s interests.”

One program for which the JCC received funding last year — and for which it has applied this year — is its Shabbat Connect program, which brought isolated seniors together for an early Shabbat celebration and meal and recruited a “plethora” of volunteers to stay in touch between events.

Ross said the new model’s value is that it “encourages innovation” as the various organizations and agencies engage with each other and federation.

“This is not just taking money to ensure infrastructure,” said Ross. “This ensures we are serving members of the community and generating thoughtful new ideas for innovation in response to our new priority areas.”

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