By Andrea Freedman
While the global pandemic has created a time of stress and uncertainty, in my 20 years’ experience working for Jewish federations, this has also become the greatest period of cooperation and trust I have witnessed between a federation and beneficiary agencies.
As the COVID-19 crisis set in, it quickly became clear the Jewish Federation of Ottawa would need to prepare an emergency campaign to support our community. In an environment where there were more questions than answers, we faced the difficult task of gathering the specifics to explain to donors why we needed them to dig deep, when everyone was hurting.
In May, we launched our Emergency Campaign for Community Resilience. Federation first determined which core agencies formed the backbone of our Jewish community, from those serving the vulnerable, to Jewish day schools, camp and our Jewish community centre. We moved quickly to meet with the leadership of these agencies to gain deeper insight into their most pressing needs and to understand the financial resources they would require to meet the community’s highest priorities.
What transpired in these conversations is nothing short of amazing.
Not only were organizations doing phenomenal work under the most trying circumstances, but they instinctively understood that we were all in this together. What do I mean by this? No single agency asked for more than what it needed. In fact, the only agency whose numbers we questioned, was one we worried was being overly conservative and, perhaps, had not asked for sufficient funds. Similarly, imagine a conversation with the leader of a major Jewish organization who said, “Thank you, we will need your help, but we can manage for the next three months – focus on the more vulnerable for now instead. We can hold off for a bit.”
Never have I felt prouder of Jewish Ottawa – the generosity of our donors, the resiliency of community members, the commitment of Federation’s staff and board, and the incredible skill, expertise, spirit, and collegiality with agency leadership.
Now that I have had some time reflect, here are three reasons for this exceptional relationship (beyond the fact that our agencies are led by incredible people and professionals).
Trusted relationships over time and a defining moment: We all invested time and energy into the relationship before the crisis began – regular meetings, communication, and periodic social interaction. What cemented the exceptional crisis cooperation is that at on March 11, before North America effectively shut down, we reached out to our lead social service agencies and told them our board had set aside money from our reserves to help them. We were not specific with the amount, but I have been told repeatedly by my agency colleagues that this declaration was a defining moment in that they heard from us before any of their other funders. In other words, we sent a strong signal of support and that Federation had their back at a time when this reassurance was most needed.
Radical candor: Federation was very clear that our board of directors had already made the decision to make their agencies’ requirements the core of our case for giving and therefore there was no need to rationalize how important they were. All that was needed was an honest assessment of need and the assumptions they were using to make their determinations in a volatile and unknown environment. In other words, from the beginning, it was a collaborative exercise.
Keep it simple and ask the right questions: Our agencies have so much on their plates right now, it is imperative to manage due diligence with the need to move quickly. Getting the right information starts with asking the right questions. And how you ask the right questions will in part determine the answers you receive.
With $2.4M (CAD) raised to date, and with allocations rolling out, this positive, open and transparent relationship has continued. As an example, a social service agency has come back to us and asked that money we raised be held in reserve for them, as the government is currently meeting all their enhanced needs for infection control, though this may still change. Imagine the trusted relationship that has to exist for this type of transparency.
There is a tacit and unspoken agreement between all, that if we work together and agencies ask only for what they need, thanks to our generous donors we will likely have sufficient funds to see our community through this crisis for 12 to 18 months. This is a goal to which we are all deeply and collectively committed and I do not take it for granted.
According to Albert Einstein, “adversity introduces a man to himself.” For our community, this adversity has proven our collective commitment to kol Yisra’el arevim zeh la zeh – we are all responsible for each other and we show this in extraordinary cooperation, trust, and generosity. In an eventual post-pandemic reality, this is one of the COVID-19 silver linings we will need to work hard to maintain.
Andrea Freedman is CEO Jewish Federation of Ottawa.