Who's up and who's down in Jewish charities? While a recent snapshot of some of the largest Jewish charities reveals that Jewish fundraising generally is stable, nuances in the numbers reveal the viccissitudes -- and why.
The Chronicle of Philanthropy last week released its annual list of the top 400 charities in America primarily for fiscal years that ended in 2003.
The 24 American Jewish charities that made the "Philanthropy 400" list raised more than $2 billion from private sources. That was some $42 million less than the total raised in fiscal year 2002 by the 28 Jewish charities on last year's list.
First among the Jewish charities was the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group for North American Jewish federations, with nearly $345 million in private donations.
However, since the UJC represents the federations and the funds they raise, much of that amount essentially was double-counted.
Of its $345 million, $233 million was collected by federations for the system's overseas partners, which run relief and welfare, Zionist education and immigration to Israel. The remaining $112 million is for the federation system's coordinated Israel Emergency Campaign, which was launched in 2001 to aid Israelis amid the intifada.
While federations raised much of those funds in fiscal year 2002, most were not transferred to UJC until fiscal year 2003. That explains why this year's list shows a bump in fundraising for the UJC but a dip for many of the federations, many of which already had listed the money in fiscal year 2002.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles fell in rankings out of the top five (see box).
The American Jewish community values the Chronicle's list because it provides an opportunity to assess the health of their charitable organizations in comparison to each other, the non-Jewish community and years past.
But the list is not foolproof. For one, it doesn't consider endowments or planned giving, many of which are mainstays of Jewish organizations. It also leaves out donations to synagogues, Jewish community centers and day schools, which boast massive capital campaigns, said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute of Jewish and Community Research.
Since most of the Jewish philanthropies that made the list are federations, which have flat campaigns, Jewish philanthropy appears flat overall -- but, in fact, it is growing, Tobin said.
Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, believes Jewish fundraising generally is stable -- but that's not good enough, he says.
"The needs are becoming more acute, and if the Jewish community wants to have a greater impact in fulfilling our mission, then stability is not going to allow us to do the job."
Additionally, "younger philanthropists view themselves as investors. This is not a generation that is looking to invest in static" charities, he said. They're "looking to take some risks, educated risks, but risks [in charities] that are taking risks."
Topping the general list of 400, by a landslide, was the Salvation Army. With some $1.3 billion raised, the group was half a million dollars ahead of the No. 2 charity, the American Cancer Society.
Federations and federation-related agencies make up more than half the Jewish charities listed. That underscores the federations' pre-eminence in American Jewish communal life despite increasing competition -- from both Jewish and non-Jewish charities -- for donors' money.
At the same time, Jewish federations primarily push a collective funding pool, despite a general philanthropic trend to give donors greater control over how their dollars are used.
In analyzing the "Philanthropy 400," it becomes clear that a group's ranking and the funds it raises may shift from year to year due to general economic conditions or even a single exceptional donation.
Often it relates to the timing of a special fundraising drive, as was the case for the federation system's Israel Emergency Campaign.
Such a scenario boosted Hadassah: The Women's Zionist Organization of America in this year's listing. The group's fundraising jumped from some $75 million in 2002 to $94 million in 2003 due to a campaign to build a new emergency medical center in Jerusalem, said Jane Karlin, Hadassah's director of development.
"This campaign, which had a $46 million goal, motivated our members across the United States to give generously," she said, noting that the group had raised $51 million for the project by May 2004.
Some, like the Jewish National Fund, lost their place on the list entirely. Last year, the group's nearly $30 million put it at 392nd place; while it topped $30 million in fiscal 2003, it didn't make the current list.
The American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science saw its funds slip from nearly $65 million in 2002 -- when it received a few major gifts -- to more than $47 million last year.
Others made the list for the first time. The New Israel Fund, which raised nearly $37 million from private sources, debuted at 354th place. That includes a $20 million grant from the Ford Foundation last fall, the group said.
While many federations explained their rise and fall due to the Israel Emergency Campaign, the fact is that federation fundraising remained fairly stable in fiscal 2003. Donations to the federation system's annual campaign -- assembled from federations across North America -- dipped only slightly in 2003, to $827.5 million from $831.9 million the year before. The annual campaign has hovered in the low- to mid-$800 million range since 2000.
The UJC raises another $1.2 billion each year through planned giving and endowments.
The list comes as federations report an increase in annual campaign gifts for 2004.
"We're running 6.4 percent ahead of last year," having raised some $778 million for the annual campaign this year compared to $745 million by this time last year, said Steve Selig of Atlanta, chair of the UJC's finance and resource development pillar.
Indeed, some 1,300 women attending the UJC's Lion of Judah conference in Washington earlier this month pledged more than $18 million, a 12 percent jump from Lion of Judah pledges last year. According to Selig, the UJC's immediate past national campaign chairman, 2003 was a "good year," but fundraising was hampered by a struggling economy and "a little bit of a hangover" after the Israel Emergency Campaign.
This year, fundraising has improved because of a better economy, and the fact that donors -- many of whom have visited Israel on federation solidarity missions -- are aware of the threats facing the Jewish state, he said.
Charendoff has a less rosy take.
With the exception of emergency campaigns, "the general story of campaigns in the federation system is that they have been flat when you adjust for inflation," he said. "It speaks to several things, including a lack of clarity of purpose and an inability to engage larger numbers of the younger generation."
Although the Palestinian intifada -- and the consequent needs of securing and healing Israelis -- continued in 2003, many federations chose not to actively solicit again for the emergency campaign, to avoid straining the system and undermining their credibility.
However, Steven Nasatir, President of the Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, didn't share that outlook. Nasatir links his federation's increased 2003 revenue to its emphasis on the emergency campaign.
"We really brought that message out to our community in a very strong way," he said.
The Chicago federation raised more than $145 million in 2003, up from $121 million the previous year, retaining its rank as the largest federation fundraiser after New York.
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