Financial Resource Development Which Keeps on Giving

Resentment, animosity, and isolation by federations of the Jewish community foundation movement is folly.

philanthropy_seedlingBy Joseph C. Imberman


At a recent yearly gathering of 275 of the most devoted and highly committed donors to the Montreal Jewish community several trends in fund and community development were conspicuously on display.

At the meeting 29 million dollars of gifts to the annual campaign and 73 million of new legacy commitments to the one year old Centennial campaign were announced for a total of approximately 100 million dollars.

What can our entire field of North American federation and community foundation philanthropy learn from a remarkable display of cooperation and harmony between a local federation and Jewish community foundation?

➺The capacity and ability of Jewish donors to support with enormous sums projects and organizations (including the traditional federation annual campaign) through their local federation and/or community foundation is alive and well. In the case of Montreal 60 million dollars will go into the construction of a new school and the complete renovation of the local YMHA because of the generosity of a few … and both projects are next to each other on the same block and across the street from the Federation.

➺Trust in the Jewish community foundations and federations is still highly visible, although it may be based in some communities on a special combination of money management and administrative skill as well as the belief in the power, knowledge and integrity of particularly skilled professionals. Donors trust and respect certain pros to help generate and manage gifts which were undreamed of 30 years ago … gifts which in some places would go directly to create private foundations anywhere in North America. Such gifts can still come to the local community foundation or federation endowment… in very large sums.

➺The long term low burner competition between federation and Jewish community foundations is the natural extension of the tension existing in many mature nonprofits. Federation leaders never have enough financial resources to fulfill their mission and it is hard to resist the desire to control all dollars set aside in permanent endowments. It is also understandable that some believe donors will either give for current needs or future needs but not for both. The evidence debunking this myth is quite clear.

When the responsibility for building the nonprofit’s endowment is separately incorporated, this tension can mushroom to the detriment of the community.

Hopefully, as in Montreal, mutual trust and admiration sufficient to assure community harmony in fund development will spread throughout North America. Or it will grow worse as it becomes clearer and clearer that the community foundations hold the cards to long term fund development in at least 35 places where two entities exist … unless (and until) the two entities finally realize how to thoroughly integrate their fund development efforts (read the annual campaign) with the individually donor specific concerns of the community foundations, and to do so in a way which is consistently respectful of the mission and vision of each.

➺Bickering and even animosity or misunderstandings between two boards or two executives on the campaign trail of integrated fund development for the long term should now and forever should pass away. The notion that federations and foundations can’t change and become what Rabbi Donniel Hartman (at the same event) called Zionism 3.0 (collaborative, concerned about partnerships, flexible and innovative and willing to give in order to get) has to go away or the entire movement is threatened. (Rabbi Hartman’s comments were said in reference to Israel, not the federation movement. I have stretched the notions for effect).

➺Resentment, animosity, and isolation by federations of the Jewish community foundation movement is folly. For 15 years while I was head of the Planned Giving and Endowment department at the Jewish Federations of North America several times per year the blow back of resentment by federations for not controlling every last dollar of allocations in the community would surface. The only way to complete harmony around use of charitable dollars committed by concerned donors is to have open and regular communication about the creation of shared mission, vision and values amongst all of the grant making and development based institutions in the community.

➺The current climate includes the creation of very substantial private foundations, existing large federation endowments, Jewish and even general community foundations, plus several influential national and international entities which provide services to these same groups. Many now have next generation leadership concerned and highly knowledgeable about Jewish life. The scenario needs to be appreciated for what it is … the growth of the philanthropic impulse from a time when donors made commitments from their hearts and because of their love of Israel first, memory of the holocaust second and community third to a time in which our newer leadership is as or more sophisticated than ever before. Accept it and embrace it and treat everyone with respect. And most of all don’t complain!

➺The most sophisticated next generation leadership can be 30 or 60 in age depending on the family, and for the most part is interested in substance and getting things done in our philanthropy space.

The impulse to lead old line charities like federations or even community foundations among these leaders is an acquired taste and generally one which is borne in involvement with the annual campaign. Treasure this opportunity to train and involve the next generation in a non judgemental way regarding both federation and foundation!

➺In order for one federation to announce 100 million dollars of new annual and legacy giving in one evening it needed to accomplish several integrated objectives. First, internally at federation, appropriate resources and direction had to be provided to market the case, train the staff and message the leadership that at this time the two development objectives were crucial. We call this integrated financial resource development.

Second the partnership between federation and Jewish community foundation had to be deepened and supported in a way which would not threaten the foundation or minimize the federation. In the communities in which two institutions coexist such behavior should be everyday operational necessity in order to manage successful donor relationships and institutional success.

Joseph C. Imberman is former Associate Vice President, Planned Giving and Endowments, JFNA and currently serves as Senior Advisor, Centennial Campaign, Federation Combined Jewish Appeal, Montreal. He has worked for over 30 years to help federations and Jewish community foundations achieve and surpass very substantial goals in fund development and distribution.