October 18, 2007
New Chairman of the Jewish Federation: I’m ‘gonna make it relevant’
"It is largely irrelevant," he said last week.
What makes Gold's remark so stark is that on Jan. 1, the sharp-tongued and fast-paced Gold, a 65-year-old self-described "monomaniac on a mission," will take over lay leadership at The Federation as chairman of the board.
"I'm gonna make it relevant," he quickly added. "Gonna make it relevant to the donor community. Gonna make it relevant to the Los Angeles community. And gonna make it relevant to most of the Jewish community. The alternative is a slow dissipation. I'm not going to let that happen."
"It is not so much about Stanley Gold," he said, making clear he recognizes the arrogance behind his ambition and that he's not the first to try to reform the 96-year-old institution. "It is changing the culture; it is changing the way they do business; it is changing their focus. I think once I get them off in the right direction, there are probably people better than Stanley Gold on how to run it in the future. The value I would hope to bring is midcourse change."
Gold is known for being as proactive in his volunteer work as he has been professionally. He got his name saving the Walt Disney Co. from corporate raiders in the 1980s and has held onto his reputation for success with Shamrock Holdings -- an investment company that is the Diaspora's largest private-equity player in Israel. He's chaired the board of trustees at USC since 2002 and has served throughout the Jewish community. As The Federation's chair, he will have just two years to set in place the mechanisms he believes will make it a better-run not-for-profit.
It's no secret that The Federation's role in the community has slipped, following a trend affecting the nationwide network of umbrella organizations that have long been the lifeblood of Jewish social services. Increased assimilation coupled with a move toward directed giving, a jump in the percentage of charity given by Jews to non-Jewish causes and an under-50 demographic that doesn't view the mission of local federations with the same appreciation that their parents did are chipping away at the vitality of these organizations large and small. (See related story.)
In Los Angeles, add to that litany the decimated staff and reduced visibility of The Federation's Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) and the national prominence of largely independent organizations, and it's no wonder The Federation's annual campaign in 2005 was $47.3 million, less than a million above what it was in 1990 -- and about 33 percent lower when accounting for inflation.
"They know all this stuff is true. They just don't want to talk about it; you don't find this on the agenda of most federations," said Gary A. Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research. "Whether the L.A. Federation is doing slightly better or slightly worse than other federations really misses the point: The annual campaign is in trouble everywhere, both in terms of how much they raise and the fact that there is a declining donor base."
Gold's focus is threefold: He wants The Federation to become the preeminent program provider in L.A.-Israel relations; he wants to reinvest in community relations; and he wants to increase leadership development. For Gold, everything else is secondary, even unnecessary, particularly those programs in which The Federation competes with other Jewish service providers.
"If they are doing it better, we ought to support them -- and certainly not be second or third best," Gold said.
And the change will mean cuts, Gold made clear, though without specifics: "There is going to be some pain in the self-evaluation, in some of the eliminations, in some of the changes that are going to occur. It is wide open. I am sure there will be changes in personnel and programs. I'm not prepared to tell you which today, because I don't know."
News of Gold's appointment has been met with hopeful surprise.
"Stanley's success has been taking undervalued companies and making them more effective. The Federation is an undervalued business, and somebody with Stanley's passions and talents and vision could really turn around the Jewish community," said Jay Sanderson, CEO of JTN Productions, on whose board Gold's wife once served and his daughter now does.
He will not be the first bigwig to lead The Federation. Preceding him are Ed Sanders, once President Jimmy Carter's Jewish community liaison; Bruce Hochman, a respected tax attorney and the first UCLA School of Law alumnus to pass the California Bar; and Barbi Weinberg, founding president of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and wife of Larry Weinberg, a former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) president. But Gold may have the most-rounded experience, from his love affair with the Jewish people to his experience running massive nonprofit organizations and for-profit enterprises.
"We are at a juncture in the life of The Federation that we are looking for somebody who has directed organizations, who can engage donors and has an experience in complex organizations -- in this case, both for-profit organizations and not-for-profits -- and is also Jewishly committed," said Federation President John Fishel, with whom Gold will work closely. "He seems to have it all."
Stanley Phillip Gold grew up in what was South Central Los Angeles, not far from USC. The son of first-generation American Jews, Gold was raised in a working-class neighborhood with equal parts Asians, blacks and whites, and he was taught to be proud of that heritage, a directive he clearly heeded.
"There is no one in the world who has a more visceral attachment to the Jewish people, the State of Israel and Jewish values than Stanley Gold," said Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). "It is inherent in his very being."
When Gold was a teenager, his parents moved to the San Fernando Valley, and there he ran track at Van Nuys High School before heading off to start his undergraduate studies at UC Berkeley.