Integrating Jewish Community Organizations in Small and Intermediate-Size Communities

Gan Yaniv – a quiet, meditative space for reflection on the Dell Jewish Community Campus, Austin. Photo:

An Overview
By Jay L. Rubin

The structure of organized Jewish communities in North America developed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as waves of immigrants fled anti-Semitism and poverty in Eastern Europe to begin new lives in the U.S. and Canada. Jewish Welfare Funds (precursors to Jewish Federations), Young Men’s Hebrew Associations (precursors to Jewish Community Centers), orphanages and settlement houses (precursors to Jewish Family and Children’s Services) and other organizations emerged in city after city to meet the enormous challenge of resettling and assimilating millions of new Americans and Canadians in an era of limited government and non-existent social safety nets.

By the 1930s, most Jewish communities, faced with the added challenge of the Great Depression, the rise of Nazi Germany and the urgency of accelerating the Zionist vision, had evolved into the familiar federation/agency structure of today. A handful of mostly smaller cities, however, took a different approach and created integrated Jewish community organizations (a term I prefer to functional federations). Integrated Jewish community organizations or IJCOs (pronounced IJEWCO) typically maintain the identity and core functions of federations and agencies while consolidating governance, fiscal management, fundraising, marketing, facilities and human resources. Among the best examples of early adopters of integrated structures were Midwestern communities, such as Omaha, Nebraska; Youngstown, Ohio and Dayton, Ohio.

In recent years, as Jewish communities have faced major demographic, technological, geographic, generational and economic change, more and more small and intermediate-size communities have implemented integrated models or are in various stages of doing so. More recent examples include Austin, Texas; Providence, Rhode Island and Tidewater, Virginia.

Approximately 150 communities with Jewish Federations are currently affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). More than two-thirds are categorized as small or intermediate with estimated Jewish populations between 1000 and 15,000, Thirty-seven (37) JFNA communities or approximately one-quarter are fully or partially integrated. The percentage is greater than one-third if larger cities, with Jewish populations over 15,000 and annual campaigns over $4 million, are removed from the mix.

At their best, integrated Jewish community organizations:

• create a customer friendly culture, minimizing turf issues and shifting the focus from who provides programs and services to who receives and benefits from them
• enhance staff teamwork, reduce silos and enable nimble and rapid change based on shifting priorities and hard data
• avoid duplicating senior level positions and better balance skill sets and pay scales within an organization
• heighten mission clarity and the ability to match, motivate and develop better lay leaders by separating volunteer governance from volunteer engagement with specific programs and services
• minimize donor asks and fatigue, expand donor recognition and deploy the costs and scheduling of fundraising more effectively
• maximize cost savings and other efficiencies by maintaining a single database, website and IT system; enabling one annual certified audit and stronger separation of duties accounting controls; enlarging discounts through group purchasing and bigger employee benefit pools and deploying office and programming spaces more creatively

Integrated Jewish community organizations develop in different ways and in multiple configurations. Some come about as a result of an urgent communal crisis such as the loss of major donations or an immediate and unsustainable agency deficit. Other communities engage in a more thoughtful planning process, responding to current trends, anticipating future challenges and weighing unique and untapped opportunities.

Configurations also run the gamut and typically reflect local cultures and circumstances. At the risk of oversimplifying and generalizing, I categorize IJCOs as Maximal, Partial and Minimal. Maximal IJCOs incorporate most of the major Jewish agencies in a community into a single hub of Jewish life while usually retaining individual brands for familiarity and marketing purposes. Typically, though not always, this includes a Jewish Federation, Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Service and Jewish Foundation. Less often, though sometimes included, are Jewish Day Schools, Jewish congregant living facilities and Hillels. Synagogues participate, if at all, in limited ways, such as back office support, shared space, security and joint programming.

Maximal integration generally evolves into a single staff structure headed by a Chief Executive Officer (CEO) with other C level colleagues comprising a senior management team. The organizational chart for one larger IJCO, for example, includes a CEO, Chief Operating Officer (COO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Philanthropy Officer (CPO), Chief Social Services Officer, and Chief Jewish Learning and Engagement Officer. In other communities, the COO is the JCC Executive Director, the CSSO is the JFS Executive Director and the CPO may serve as the Foundation director, overseeing and coordinating annual, supplementary and planned giving. Regardless they are now part of a single, collaborative, interdependent senior management team focused on community development rather than agency positioning.

Maximal integration often leads to a single organizational governing board of diverse and experienced lay leaders charged with legal, fiduciary, philanthropic and strategic oversight as well as CEO hiring, evaluation and goal-setting. Volunteer leaders with particular expertise and passion in areas such as health and wellness, social service and Jewish learning often serve on councils, cabinets or committees where they provide added value to each of the programmatic branches and serve as a potential “farm system” for the governing board.

Minimal IJCOs generally share back office functions and space. Partial IJCOs fall somewhere in between with fewer agencies and either integrated staff or governance.

Three last points. First, integrating Jewish community organizations is not a “one-off” or, to use a college basketball analogy, a “one and done.” Innovation leads to learning and to making continuous tweaks and improvements over time as personnel change and the culture of collaboration deepens. Second, integrating is fundamentally a locally-driven process rarely initiated and minimally-supported, in my experience, by the continental movements, such as JFNA, the JCC Association and the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies (formerly the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Services and the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services). Finally, trends suggest that more and more small and intermediate-size Jewish communities, recognizing the synergistic benefits of integrating, are increasingly open to exploring the IJCO model. Unlike their large city counterparts, the ability of many smaller Jewish communities to survive and potentially thrive through the 21st century may very well depend on it.

Jay Rubin retired in 2016 as CEO of Shalom Austin, the campus-based, integrated Jewish community organization in Austin, Texas, following more than three decades as a senior executive of JCCs, Jewish Federations and Hillel International. He can be reached at