Calling it a “real victory for the community,” the chief operating officer of UJA-Federation of New York announced that the 1998 annual campaign that ended June 30 had raised $123 million, a record $6 million more than the previous year.
“The record campaign, while certainly helped by a strong economy, also reflects a renewed commitment to the importance of the annual campaign and to federated giving,” said the official, John Ruskay. The $123 million figure represents a gain of 5 percent over last year.
The general chair of the annual campaign, Charles Borrok, noted that the campaign has increased in three of the last four years. And he pointed out that money raised through planned giving and endowments, the capital development fund and other special campaigns swelled the amount contributed to UJA-Federation to more than $250 million.
The campaign has been flat for much of this decade. UJA-Federation officials attributed that in the early 1990s to the fact that Operation Exodus, an effort to raise funds for the resettlement of former Soviet Jews, was diverting money from the annual campaign. But even when that ended, the campaign continued to sputter despite a booming economy. That led UJA-Federation officials to develop a strategic plan that called for more direct communication with donors and a better explanation of where their money was going.
The largest single contribution to the 1998 annual campaign was $1.9 million from the Jewish Communal Fund, a public charity in which individuals and families place a minimum of $10,000 in charitable funds and then advise the fund where to donate it. In the fiscal year just ended, the fund’s 1,400 donors contributed more than $100 million to different charities, $10 million more than the previous year.
The largest single charity to benefit from those contributions was UJA-Federation of New York, which received more than $8 million, according to Allan Dubow, the fund’s vice president of finance and administration.
Ruskay noted that the increase in support for the annual campaign comes at a time when “some pundits were predicting its demise” as donors sought to give their money to specific projects rather than federated giving. But Ruskay said “numerous initiatives, including intensive interaction with our donors and more effective communications programs, have enabled the federation system to renew and re-engage large segments of the Jewish community in this enterprise.”
The executive vice president of UJA-Federation, Stephen Solender, observed that there was also concern that the annual campaign would be hurt by the pluralism battle being waged in Israel by the American Conservative and Reform movements. He said the “remarkable” results of the campaign demonstrated that donors “understood we cannot make the campaign a battleground because if we do, the most vulnerable in our midst become the unwitting victim. … We must continue to be our brothers’ keeper.”
Added Ruskay: “At a time when the community is being pulled apart, the result of this campaign is one manifestation of the desire of our community to hold together.”
Money from the annual campaign is used for human needs in New York, Israel and in more than 50 other countries around the world. Locally, campaign dollars are allocated to more than 100 social service agencies in New York City, Long Island and Westchester, impacting hundreds of thousands of individuals. Among the beneficiaries are the frail elderly, Holocaust survivors, the homeless, victims of domestic violence, the mentally and physically handicapped and those with the AIDS virus.
Borrok said that although the campaign benefited from the economy, the “tireless efforts of so many dedicated volunteers and professional staff” deserve much of the credit.
“By taking our message directly to the people, with more creative events, more individual meetings and personal approaches, and just more effort overall, we made it possible to provide that much more assistance to the individuals we serve.”
Ruskay hastened to add that “much work remains.” For instance, he said that at the same time the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee is feeding 140,000 elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union, “there are at least 100,000 more who need our help there.”
Similarly, at a time when 9,000 young Jews are attending Jewish summer camps in the former Soviet Union, an additional 15,000 were turned away for lack of funds, he noted.
“Our largest donors increasingly recognize that the annual campaign is the vital means to support Jews in need wherever they reside, whether it is in Bensonhurst, the former Soviet Union or in Israel,” said Ruskay. “While many are reaping the benefits of the enormous bounty, large sectors of the elderly live in or near poverty.”
He noted that a year ago, a “strategic decision” was made to concentrate resources on donors who in previous years had contributed more than $100. That decision was based on financial considerations and will be reassessed for next year’s campaign, said Ruskay.
Although Solender said there had been a loss of a few thousand contributors, no figures were immediately available. Information was also not available about how much the average contributor donated.
Sue Dickman, the executive vice president of the Jewish Communal Fund, noted that although it is the fund’s practice to contribute money each year to UJA-Federation, this year’s donation was the largest ever. Last year it contributed $1.77 million and Dubow said that this year’s figure is expected to increase once a final accounting is completed.
He explained that the donation came from the money the fund received this year from fees charged to donors and from its own investments. The fund charges its donors a fee of three-quarters of 1 percent of the balance in their account.
“The fund balanced increased from $414 million to in excess of $470 million [in the last 12 months],” said Dubow.