The umbrella organization for North American Jewish federations is now the seventh largest charitable organization in the United States, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
This marks the first time in recent years that a Jewish organization has ranked in the top 20 of the Chronicle's annual listing of the 400 not-for-profit organizations with the largest revenues from individual contributors.
And, had the tabulation been done differently - to include all dollars raised by federations, instead of only those allocated to overseas needs - the ranking would have been considerably higher, say officials of the umbrella group, known as the United Jewish Communities (UJC).
According to the Chronicle, the UJC raised $524.3 million in 1999, but UJC officials say the federation system actually raised close to $2 billion.
The United Jewish Appeal, the largest of the three organizations that merged to form the UJC last year, regularly appeared on the Chronicle's top 10 list until 1996, when it ranked No. 6. However, it was later removed from the list when the publication adopted a now-abandoned policy of excluding umbrella organizations, such as the UJA and United Way, that receive their money from other organizations on the list.
Gail Hyman, the UJC's vice president of marketing and public affairs, said she is pleased the charity has been recognized in this year's listing, noting that "we are among the leading and best fund-raising organizations nationally."
But UJC's high ranking comes as the overall number of Jewish organizations on the top-400 list has dropped from 27 to 25.
In addition, most Jewish groups, particularly federations, slipped in rank since last year, even if their overall revenues increased. This indicates that other philanthropies - which, according to the article, are enjoying average increases of 13 percent this year - are growing more rapidly than Jewish ones.
Among the few Jewish groups to increase in rank this year are some undergoing major endowment campaigns, like the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit; the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary, which is in the middle of a capital campaign; and PEF Israel Endowment Funds, a group that funnels donor-designated gifts to a variety of Israeli organizations.
Observers of Jewish philanthropic trends say the overall drop is not surprising, given that, as American Jews assimilate, they contribute more money to secular causes and less to Jewish organizations.
"I suspect the greatest growth is into non-Jewish giving by Jews," said Bruce Arbit, co-managing director of A.B. Data, a firm that assists many Jewish organizations in direct marketing campaigns.
American Jews, said Arbit, "feel less connectedness to the Jewish people" than they used to. In addition, intermarried households - which are growing in number - tend to give less to Jewish organizations than other Jewish families, said Arbit.
David Mersky, a senior lecturer in Jewish philanthropy at Brandeis University's Hornstein Program in Jewish Communal Service, said the general decline in ranking for Jewish groups results from the relatively weak campaigns of Jewish federations.
Federation campaigns, in which donors contribute to a general pool, "have not kept pace with the rate of increase of other philanthropies," said Mersky.
Federation annual campaigns increased 4 percent on average in 1999. But more than half of total federation giving was not to the annual campaign but to endowments.
Mersky said endowments and other campaigns that allow designated giving, in which donors can choose exactly where their money goes, do better - which may explain the success of PEF.
However, philanthropy experts caution against reading too much into fluctuations that occur from year to year.
"Fundraising, organization by organization, is very cyclical," said Mersky. He pointed out that a major campaign one year may be followed by a drop the following year, and that in any given year, a one-time major gift like a bequest can "make all the difference in the world" and "rocket you forward."
The rankings - in which 12 federations and communal funds appear, compared to 15 last year - are also consistent with trends away from federation giving and toward more specialized causes, like specific institutions and "friends of" Israeli organizations.
Ironically, one of the Jewish groups enjoying the most dramatic increase in ranking is one that does not do any fund raising at all.
"We never asked anybody for a dime. We have no fund-raising dinners. It's just word of mouth," said B. Harrison Frankel, president of PEF Israel Endowment Funds, which ranked 279 this year, up from 351 last year.
The organization channels funds to more than 1,000 nonpolitical organizations in Israel - ranging from the Magen David Adom relief agency to the Israel Women's Network - and raised $38.5 million in 1999, up from $12 million in 1991. Run almost entirely by volunteers, PEF allows donors to earmark their contributions.
After the UJC, the New York, Chicago and Detroit federations were the largest Jewish organizations on the list. With revenues of $156.9 million, New York's federation ranked 53 (down from 44 last year) and its Jewish Communal Fund - which allows donors to create their own charitable foundations - ranked 61.With $66.9 million, Hadassah: The Women's Zionist Organization of America was the largest non-federation Jewish organization appearing on the list. It ranked 170, down from last year's 133.
Six Jewish universities - including three American "friends of" Israeli institutions - also made the list.
The Top 10 Jewish Charities
Following are the top 10 Jewish philanthropies, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy's listing of 400 largest charities:
United Jewish Communities
Rank this year: 7
Rank last year: not listed because it was founded in 1999
Private support: $524.3 million
UJA-Federation of Greater New York
Rank this year: 53
Rank last year: 43
Private support: $156.9 million
Jewish Communal Fund (related toUJA-Federation of Greater New York)
Rank this year: 61
Rank last year: 54
Private support: $145.7 million
Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund
of Metropolitan Chicago
Rank this year: 110
Rank last year: 91
Private support: $97.3 million
United Jewish Foundation and Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit
Rank this year: 151
Rank last year: 155
Private support: $77.1 million
Hadassah, the Women's Zionist
Organization of America
Rank this year: 170
Rank last year: 132
Private support: $66.9 million
Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties
Rank this year: 175
Rank last year: 138
Private support: $65.3 million
of Greater Philadelphia
Rank this year: 188
Rank last year: 242
Private support: $62.3 million
The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore
Rank this year: 223
Rank last year: 218
Private support: $52.2 million
Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
Rank this year: 231
Rank last year: 236
Private support: $50.1 million