The existence of a State of Israel or the notion of raising $100 million would have boggled the minds of the founders of the Federation of Jewish Charities in 1911. But as the 100th anniversary celebrations of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles launched this month, Israel is not only a fact, but also a draw for a proposed 1,000-person trip to Israel, and the founding of a $100 million community endowment seems imminent.
Federation president Jay Sanderson, who just completed his first year on the job, sees the centennial as an opportunity to help the community understand Federation’s evolving role.
“The idea is to use this not only to celebrate 100 years and raise a whole lot of money, but to bring the whole community together,” Sanderson said.
In 1911, an estimated 12,000 Jews lived in Los Angeles when seven Jewish social service agencies decided to unite their fundraising efforts into a central body. They set an initial budget of $30,000, and in 1912 raised 30 percent more than the separate entities had the previous year, according to Karen Wilson, guest curator/historian of “Life in the Mosaic: 160 Years of Jews in Los Angeles,” scheduled to open at the Autry National Center in Griffith Park in 2012.
The model evolved over the years as various organizations formed and merged into what is today The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which now has a nearly $50 million annual budget and collects and allocates funds to hundreds of communal organizations serving Los Angeles’ 600,000 Jews.
But over the past 10 years, fundraising has been flat or declining at Federation, which, like umbrella charity organizations nationally, is struggling to reach out to donors who prefer more directed giving. The decades-long notion that giving to Federation is a mandatory community tax doesn’t speak to today’s Jewish community. While Federation’s 2010 campaign eked out a slight increase over last year’s in the last quarter of the year — coming in at $47.2 million — Sanderson wants to make the centennial’s message an articulation of Federation’s future as much as a celebration of past accomplishments.
“The model of Federation [set up] 99 years ago … worked really well for our grandparents and not too badly for our parents, but for us and our kids — they’re looking for a direct connection and they want to know where their money is going. They are looking for a different kind of value proposition,” Sanderson said.
Sanderson hopes to position Federation as setting communal priorities and using its leverage to coordinate and enhance the offerings of the myriad Jewish organizations that serve the Los Angeles community.
And he is hoping to use centennial events to focus attention on innovation, community service and Israel, all with an underlying theme of uniting L.A.’s sprawling Jewish landscape.
Before Sanderson took office, Federation had already started a $100 million centennial endowment campaign. Around $50 million is already pledged, Sanderson said, and several major donations are nearly finalized that will assure the $100 million goal is met.
Among the programs, front and center is the search for the Next Big Jewish Idea, an online contest for an innovative program or initiative that would galvanize Los Angeles Jewry, with an eye toward taking the idea national after it is piloted in Los Angeles.
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