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The State of Federation

December 3, 2009
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Ira M. Schwartz
The New Year is dawning, and soon we will mark the 109th anniversary of Federation's founding. There have been changes in the name, focus and direction since the organization's inception as the Federation of Jewish Charities. Yet its commitment to the Jewish community has remained constant through a Great Depression, two World Wars and a range of other milestones.

The year 2009 has been a monumental one, marked by change and serious economic challenges. In the following article, Federation CEO Ira M. Schwartz will discuss how Federation is utilizing its strategic philanthropy model to successfully address current critical needs in the Philadelphia area, in Israel and in the former Soviet Union. During this question-and-answer session with Lynn B. Edelman, Federation's Corporate and Public Communications Manager, Schwartz also shares his insights on future challenges to the viability of our Jewish community.

What do you see as Federation's chief funding priority, both locally and globally?

"Significant resources are being directed to projects and initiatives that help combat hunger and food insecurities. Locally, more than $700,000 has been allocated to food-distribution programs run by Federation's Mitzvah Food Project, which provides nonperishable packages of food and supermarket script to more than 2,400 households through five food pantry locations; to support the efforts of our partner, the Jewish Relief Agency, to engage more than 650 volunteers each month in assembling and distributing boxes of kosher, nonperishable food to 2,800 households; and to enable the Klein JCC to deliver frozen meals to more than 300 low-income and frail seniors throughout Northeast Philadelphia. It is estimated that we serve about 7,000 individuals through a multitude of our food insecurity related services.

"Federation is committed to addressing hunger in our Jewish community. To help achieve this goal, we are engaged in a formal hunger study to analyze our current system of food purchasing, storage, distribution and delivery, and find ways to be more effective and efficient. The study, underwritten by a private donor who is a longtime Federation supporter, is scheduled to be completed on or around Dec. 31, and I will share these results soon after they are released.

"In Israel, Federation directs $750,000 to programs run by three separate agencies. The Hazon Yeshaya Humanitarian Network's Project Outreach supports thousands of Holocaust survivors experiencing hunger with cooked meals, available 365 days a year, as well as food parcels. We also are proud to allocate $50,000 to support the food program at Yad Lakashish: Lifeline for the Elderly. This support enables the organization to provide a daily hot meal to the 300 elderly and disabled artisans who create the beautiful hand-crafted items, which are sold in their Jerusalem shop.

"Federation is very excited to direct $350,000 to Latet, a brand-new national initiative in Israel targeted at relieving nutritional insecurity throughout southern Israel. Latet is modeled after America's Second Harvest program, which strives to rescue, collect and distribute food that is currently destroyed.

"Federation's commitment to relieving hunger and food insecurity extends to the former Soviet Union, where we provide $1,000,000 in funding to poor, elderly Jews in Siberia, the Russian Far East. This supports a network of 185 Hesed Welfare Centers and relief organizations sponsored by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's Hunger Relief and Medical Assistance Program.

"Eliminating hunger has always been a Federation priority. Wherever there are hungry people, we need to be able to provide services to them with efficiency, effectiveness and with dignity."

When you came to Federation in July 2006, you guided the organization toward its implementation of a strategic philanthropy model. How has this shift helped Federation continue to be effective in raising and allocating funds, despite a challenging economic climate?

"Donors want to know that their money has impact, and this is why our Federation decided to narrow its focus and support those initiatives that make an important and measurable difference in people's lives This is why we allocate more than $2.2 million to Gateways to Aging Well, a joint program of JEVS Human Services and the Klein JCC, which provides more than 1,500 Jewish seniors with access to a broad range of services that help them to maintain their independence, improve the quality of their lives, and maintain their physical and emotional well-being. This is why we provide $1.1 million in support to Jewish Family and Children's Service's Aging in Place program, empowering 2,500 frail, low-income older adults to live at home with the assistance of care managers and access to a broad-range of support services.

"This is why we also recognize the need to support those Jewish seniors who need assisted-living and skilled nursing care. This year, Federation has allocated $200,000 to provide affordable, kosher hot meals to 195 Federation Housing, Inc., residents, as well as provided a $500,000 challenge grant to the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, a modern, attractive supportive environment for 600 senior adults. The grant was given to enable the center to raise $1 million in 2009.

"And this is why we enthusiastically support initiatives that give our young people the building blocks of Jewish identity. Federation allocates resources to provide scholarship assistance to Jewish day schools; strengthen synagogue religious-school programs and supplemental schools like the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College; encourage participation in Jewish overnight camping; and provide access to Israel travel, study, volunteer and leadership development experiences. Through our support of Hillel, we enable young adults to make Jewish connections on area college campuses.

"Every organization that applies for a grant must define their goals and objectives. If they receive an allocation, they must demonstrate each year that they are getting positive results -- or the grants will end.

"We are the first and the only Federation in the country to have a research staff to define and measure the outcomes of each program funded. This enables us to trim fat and reduce overlap, as well as avoid duplicating programming. Donors are able to see exactly how their money is spent and gain confidence in our ability to invest their philanthropic dollars wisely."

What Federation initiatives are you the most excited about in the coming months?

"I spoke earlier about the Hunger Study, which will soon be released. At the same time, we anticipate the release of our 2009 Jewish Population Study, conducted in partnership with the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network. The study, conducted every 10 years, will address important questions about Jewish identity and affiliation; patterns of mobility; household characteristics; socio-demographics; and population estimates.

"Beginning in March 2009, staff from Social Science Research Solutions -- one of two research and survey firms engaged by Einstein to design and implement this telephone survey -- dialed more than 132,000 phone numbers toward the goal of completing 1,200 interviews.

"Study results will help us to determine how the landscape has changed in the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community. I am optimistic that this study will be an invaluable planning and assessment tool. This up-to-date data will guide our allocations process in ways that best serve community needs; enhance our strategic philanthropy efforts by enabling us to target prospective donor groups; and will help us identify and engage volunteer leadership.

"It has been very rewarding for me to work with my counterpart at Einstein, Barry R. Freedman, the organization's president and CEO, and to renew and strengthen the historic bonds between our two institutions.

"Perhaps the greatest privilege I have had during my three-year tenure with Federation has been the opportunity to work with visionary lay leadership.

"Beryl Simonson brought me to Federation during his term as chairman. In the year I worked with Beryl, we made some difficult decisions that strengthened the fiscal health of our Federation. For the past 21/2 years, Leonard Barrack has been my partner in making Federation more responsive, transparent and accountable to our donors. I am truly grateful for his friendship and support. Len has been at the forefront of all our activities, and has set the bar pretty high for us to improve and enhance not only our operations, but our funding focus and effectiveness. He has been able to engage and involve major families in our community in the work of the Federation and the impact will be felt for years to come.

"And both of us have had the great pleasure of working with our campaign chair, Mark Fishman -- a man who exemplifies the meaning of the word mensch. Mark's tireless efforts and passionate approach to working with volunteers has resulted in immediate impact -- we now have many more volunteers actively engaged in the fundraising for our organization, a reversal of a trend we have seen for some time now.

"I am also excited about the growth and level of volunteer involvement in Federation.

"During our Nov. 1 Mitzvah Mania day of community service, for example, more than 5,000 people made a tangible difference in the lives of their fellow Jews. This amazing turnout is proof-positive that people believe in Federation's ability to have impact and achieve results."

Any closing thoughts?

"I want to invite readers who have any questions or suggestions about Federation's current course and/or future direction, to e-mail me ([email protected])."

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