One of the wonderful things about a national gathering like the General Assembly,” said Paula Joffe, director of Women’s Philanthropy and the PJ Library at the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, “is that you get to meet colleagues from around the country with the exact same questions you have.”
Joffe joined executive director Mark Merkovitz in representing the Princeton Mercer Bucks federation at the Jewish Federations of North America’s annual gathering in Washington, DC, Nov. 8-10.
Some 3,000 Jewish communal professionals, lay leaders, and college students attended the GA, which brings together 151 local Jewish federations spread out across Canada and the United States.
“The bottom line is that this type of gathering shows you can’t throw out the past — but you’ve got to update it,” said Merkovitz. “We can’t be our father’s Buick anymore. We have to be our sister’s Tesla.”
Two days after returning home to Princeton, Joffe said she found the gathering “a very informal way to collaborate, to exchange phone numbers and e-mails and know that you can speak openly and honestly about best practices and the best way to advance our common mission.”
Her observations coincided with the GA’s overall theme, “Think Forward,” a reference to new ideas that Jewish groups will need to embrace due to shifts in Jewish demographics and funding models. Speakers and workshops focused on unity after the summer’s bruising debate over the Iranian nuclear deal, outreach to diverse populations, and the nuts and bolts of effective fund-raising.
“There was an overall theme of presenting speakers that really encouraged the attendees to challenge their traditional approach to federations and to think differently about how we relate to our communities,” Joffe said. “That was a wonderful thing. “
What was especially on her mind was finding ways to tap into the needs and commitments of younger Jewish adults.
“We were given the tools on how to relate to people who have an awful lot of energy to give to philanthropic causes,” she said. “Millennials and Gen-Xers have a basic mistrust of organizations. Although these younger people are ready to write checks for worthy causes, they want to know where their money is going.”
About 250 North American college students attended the GA.
“We need to create a more targeted, more affiliated approach,” said Joffe. “This is a problem across the board that we are all dealing with.”
Joffe, who has worked at the Princeton Mercer Bucks federation for four years, is a fund-raising veteran. As a young mother living in Cherry Hill, she “learned how to be a federation volunteer while having my young son on my hip” as she raised funds and recruited other volunteers.
Joffe said she has plans to put some of the information she brought home from the GA into practice in her community.
“They gave us the tools to move into the next century and help us look at our common demographics and our younger generations and how they relate to the organized community,” she said. “We are briefing our board and our leaders about the things we learned and developing a strategic plan and new ideas for outreach and leadership development.”