Food for Thought

Not only is the media filled with news stories about the events surrounding the Madoff scam, but we are seeing a great deal of second guessing, calls for Congressional hearings and more (not all nicely said). The economy has been in free-fall for a while and this, naturally, has been felt in the global philanthropic world. Yet, there are many who have not been hurt as much as others.

Earlier in the week, two unrelated foundations indicated to me they will be assisting others who have sustained losses. One anonymous individual has already made up the $5.7 million loss to The North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.

Last night, we came across this Publisher’s Note from Andrew A. Buerger of The Baltimore Jewish Times. What do you think?

Weinberg Challenge

Who will bail out our local institutions? Baltimore’s Jewish Federation, the Associated –– akin to the United Way for the Jewish community — is struggling to meet the increased demands for job training, food and mental health counseling. They can’t bail out every institution, such as our Jewish day schools, some of which could fail in the coming year. Donors cannot pay their pledges this month; even more services will be cut, affecting the poor and elderly.

That’s why I was surprised to learn that The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation is taking a breather until April 1, 2009. They reasoned that they are reassessing their grant making process and the state of the economy.

I can appreciate that. The Foundation has shown great leadership and vision over the years while doubling its corpus –– which supports causes for Jews, the elderly and the poor — to $2 billion. It’s made a huge difference in the lives of people all over the world. In the last two years alone the Foundation made more than $200 million in grants.

Our local community, though, needs the Weinberg Foundation more than ever. The foundation can act like the federal government and prime the pump to stimulate our economy. They, unlike any other regional institution, can affect real change. They can help put food on someone’s table. They may help prevent the collapse of a Jewish day school.

Who else can step in and do that when endowments fell 35 percent on average, donations are down and need is up? (emphasis eJP)

I wish that next week they would hand out $10 million each to a few philanthropy czars, who would then give out the money as they see fit. Why not provide $10 million in emergency funds to the Associated, Catholic Charities, the United Way of Central Maryland and Associated Black Charities. They in turn would be responsible for providing services for Jews, impoverished and elderly in the next 90 days.

The Weinberg executives and board must be mindful of the long term to ensure their institutions’ viability; their investment portfolio must have suffered like everyone else’s. Still, it’s raining like we’ve never seen, and it’s time to tap the rainy day funds before we lose more jobs, more Jewish institutions and more services.

Giving it out quickly to local experts will provide a boost of confidence and local liquidity to shore up our uncertain economy. They left the door open for more grants in the strenuous time for basic human needs. I hope they quickly choose to change course.

If they could, the Weinberg Foundation would leave a mark unlike it has ever done, which is saying a lot for an organization that’s already given so much.