How does the Philadelphia-area community's central fundraising body go about parceling out millions of dollars for local, national and international needs?
It's a question many may be wondering as this year's funding process culminated last week with a vote by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's board of directors to approve the allocation of $16.3 million in unrestricted funds to dozens of programs. The Federation's full board of trustees also needs to give its stamp of approval, which is slated to happen at the end of this month.
The unrestricted funds represent only a portion of Federation-based allocations, but they are the ones that involve a complex process of determining who gets how much.
For the first time, leaders of the Federation agreed to open up the process of allocating the unrestricted dollars to the Jewish Exponent in an effort to help the wider community better understand how these decisions are made and who makes them.
The outcome of the process has an enormous impact on many of the agencies, institutions and programs that comprise the local community and beyond.
The months-long process involves dozens of Federation staff, lay leaders, and organizational and agency professionals, each playing a role in determining the final outcome of the allocations.
This was the third cycle that was based on funding specific programs, rather than organizations and agencies. It also included a more streamlined process that, according to those involved, took into account for the first time a rigorous evaluation of already funded programs to measure their outcomes and success.
Driving the process is an seven-member committee -- the Policy, Strategy and Funding Committee, known internally as PSF.
This year's committee members, all volunteers involved in the community, are: Tony Schneider, chair, the principal and founder of a local real estate development and investment company; Jerry Goldberg, an entrepreneur and business executive with international consulting experience; Sam Greenblatt, an executive at a real estate financing firm who is also involved in several businesses; Ned Kaplin, a businessman; Adam Laver, a local attorney; Sara Minkoff, who has held numerous leadership positions in the Jewish community, and is incoming president of Women's Philanthropy; and Michael Rosenzweig, the CEO and president of the National Museum of American Jewish History.
Other key players come from the lay and professional leadership of Federation and its three policy centers: Center for Jewish Life and Learning, which funds Jewish identity and educational programs; Center for Social Responsibility, which funds programs for seniors and the disadvantaged; and Center for Israel and Overseas, which funds programs related to Israel and needs in the former Soviet Union.
The PSF committee met at least monthly during the course of the year, but the process went into full gear in February 2010 with the centers' distribution of Requests for Proposals, which went out to agencies and organizations that could provide the types of services and programs that the centers were looking for. The call to submit grant proposals for particular programs was also published in the Exponent and communicated to agencies in Israel that receive Federation funding.
After putting out their requests for proposals, known as RFPs, the centers were inundated with applications. A total of 288 requests poured in, seeking a total of $47,425,386.
The task then fell to each center to gather its board and its subcommitttees, setting to work evaluating, analyzing and prioritizing the various programs and projects. Several leaders of the centers said that in evaluating each proposal, they considered the findings of the 2009 Jewish population study, finding connections between what the study suggested the community needs and what specific proposals could offer.
The centers' task included site visits to already established programs seeking renewed funding, as well as extensive meetings and communication with those seeking new funding for programs trying to get off the ground.
But the numbers and procedures alone don't depict the difficult work of the staff and the volunteers, who were tasked with sifting through and paring down the 288 requests for millions of dollars beyond what was available.
Some of that was evident when each center came before the PSF committee to make its pitch in May and June. With each of three sessions devoted to one center at a time, the lay and professional heads of each center outlined their priorities and presented their recommendations.
As presentations were made by the various centers to PSF, the head of the committee, Schneider, made clear that this wasn't going to be easy for anyone.
Schneider also said that one of the things the committee was looking for was whether for each program, there was someone else who could, should or would be funding or participating in the funding. PSF, he said, was looking to leverage the limited funds available from the Federation to ensure the biggest bang for the buck.
The centers started with no knowledge of how PSF would allocate the funds. But while they knew the ultimate allocations would be less than their requests, each center hoped it would capture a larger slice of the pie.
After the initial recommendations, they were instructed to go back to crunch more numbers, figuring out their priorities if they got 30 percent, 35 percent or 40 percent of the pool.
After the policy committee met a few more times, they came up with their recommendations to divvy up the funds. Ultimately, $12.7 million was distributed to the centers recommended programs; $1.7 million was allocated for the centers' budgets, and another nearly $1.9 million went to other local and national services.
Assessing the overall outcome, Schneider spoke for many of those involved when he expressed disappointment and frustration at the overall reduction of funds available.
The PSF committee and the centers "were much more limited in their ability to fund new and creative programs," said Schneider. In the end, "we ended up having to focus on the most basic needs."
He said that they were in the midst of evaluating the process to try to improve on it for next year.
"We have to find a way to better meet the needs in a changing environment," he said. "The task was impossible; everybody comes back to the same conclusion -- that we have to raise more money."