UJA-Federation of New York raised slightly less in donations this year than last in a campaign that reflected a trend toward fewer donors in difficult financial times.
Overall, the country’s largest federation described its fundraising year as successful in “holding steady under continuing economic challenges,” generating $187 million total in its 2011-2012 fiscal year, including $136.7 million from its annual campaign. It also raised $43.8 million in planned giving, such as bequests, and $6.5 million for special initiatives and capital funds. Donations rose in planned giving and fell in the other two categories, leading to an overall drop of $1 million from last year.
Jerry Levin, president of UJA-Federation, said that “the fact that we are able to reach this level of giving from tens of thousands of supporters speaks volumes” about the role of the charity in the community. The charity’s board chair, Alisa Doctoroff, noted that “some donors faced new financial realities and had to adjust accordingly,” but trusted the federation “to identify and address critical communal issues in ways that can have the greatest impact.”
The total number of donors dropped to 56,711, down 3.5 percent from last year, federation spokeswoman Jane Rubinstein told The Jewish Week, citing the weak economy.
“In 2011, people saw the recovery wasn’t as robust as they thought. That accounts for some of the flat numbers,” said Avrum Lapin, principal at EHL Consulting, based in Willow Grove, Pa., which advises nonprofits on fundraising and has a large practice in the Jewish community.
Yet the median gift size both this year and last was $100, and the total amount raised dropped only slightly, which demonstrates an increased reliance on a smaller number of donors.
Major gifts have become more important in the Jewish nonprofit world as the donor pool has shrunk, inducing the organizations to rely more heavily on those who can write bigger checks.
“The concentration of wealth has given us all pause. It’s great to get those transformative gifts,” but the smaller number of donors can put a campaign at risk, Lapin said.
In a time of economic uncertainty, even big donors take longer to decide how much to give, and to whom, said Lapin.
“The biggest drag on philanthropy right now is that psychological hesitation.”
The federation’s numbers are roughly consistent with philanthropy generally. In late June, the release of “Giving USA,” known as the yearbook of American charity, revealed that giving barely grew in 2011, rising just 0.9 percent.
What’s more, religious organizations suffered the biggest drop in 2011, with donations falling almost 5 percent, in part because fewer Americans belong to churches, synagogues and mosques, according to Giving USA.
UJA-Federation is working to diversify its fundraising pool. It has mounted, for example, an initiative to engage Russian-speaking Jews in the organization, said David Mersky of Mersky Jaffe & Associates, a Boston-area fundraising consultancy.
“But that’s a long-term strategy,” he said. “It will take a long time to bear fruit in terms of fundraising.”