Meeting Needs With Fewer Dollars

Meeting Needs With Fewer Dollars

UJA-Federation of New York last week announced that its annual campaign kickoff at the home of Alan “Ace” and Kathryn Greenberg raised $43 million from more than 85 philanthropic and business leaders. Despite the worst recession since the Depression, the amount was virtually identical to the record amount raised a year ago.

In response to the financial crisis, UJA-Federation initiated in May a program called Connect to Care, funded by $6 million from its endowments; it has served about 6,900 individuals. Through its seven regional centers, it offers legal service, employment training, emergency cash assistance, loans, and mental, spiritual and family counseling. John Ruskay, UJA-Federation’s executive vice president and CEO, spoke to The Jewish Week about the charity’s annual campaign and the broader philanthropic environment.

Q: The annual campaign last year raised $136 million, down 11.6 percent from the prior year. What do you realistically expect to raise this year?

A: Last January, February and March … we reduced our administrative budget by $8 million and our grants by $8 million and we guesstimated that the 2010 campaign ending June 30, would raise $134 million. That remains our target.

How do you assess the results of the Greenberg event?

We are not aware of any other single room in which fewer than 100 men and women come together and pledge such support for any organization. These results communicate a profound recognition of the essential role of UJA-Federation in supporting Jewish life in New York, Israel and throughout the world.

When we began planning this event, we knew many donors would not be able to renew their gifts. Hence to see to a cadre of our leaders dramatically increase their level of support and inspire ours to do so confirms the extraordinary importance of leadership. We hope those who are still able to make leadership gifts will do so inspired by what happened at the Greenberg event.

There are so many critical needs because of the recession. How are you deciding priorities?

We took a number of steps. First, we said we had to maintain our support for human service agencies that support the Jewish community and the broader community in New York. Second, we said we needed to find additional resources to respond to the significant job loss and pain in the Jewish community; thus was created Connect to Care.

Third, while reducing support strategically, we said a federation is about global Jewish responsibility. So we sustained a commitment to the Jewish communities in Israel and throughout the world. And we said that while we will respond to the acute needs in New York, we must also continue to invest in the Jewish future. Hence, we’re continuing support for Birthright Israel, Jewish summer camps and Jewish education broadly.

Has overseas funding been cutback because of the urgent needs here?

We reduced grants by $8 million, and it was not with a domestic or overseas lens.
What is the need level in the Jewish community?

Going into the recession we had two Jewish New Yorks: An upper middle class and another in which one of 1 out of 5 Jews is at or within 50 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Since the recession, the needs of the poor have continued, and we now have a new group in the Jewish community who have never had to turn to us for services or support. Some of them were even honorees at our events. In creating Connect to Care, we created a new way to respond to the needs of middle-class Jews with dignity, with a broad range of services and ideally with the embrace of a community.

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