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Federation ... A True Agent of Change

February 22, 2007 By:
Ira M. Schwartz
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Ira M. Schwartz

It's been a little over eight months since I joined the Jewish Federation. I can honestly say that so far it's been a very challenging, demanding and yet a very rewarding experience. Quite frankly, one of the major reasons I accepted this position was because I truly believe in Federation's new direction.

There has been a growing trend in the Jewish philanthropic community as well as in the secular community towards greater transparency, increased operational efficiencies, greater focus and higher accountability. If I may be so bold, I can say that our Federation, to a certain extent, caused others around the country to re-examine how they manage their business. We were one of the first federations in the country to begin to address this issue. Also, our local United Way is in the process of realigning itself to limit its priorities and focus on outcomes and results. We realized that the old way of doing business just doesn't work any more.

It is thanks to the vision of our community leaders and my predecessor, Harold Goldman, that our Federation and our community is at the forefront of this issue. I feel privileged to be a part of this change and I believe we're well on our way to achieving the objectives set forth in our Strategic Philanthropy plan.

The plan also stipulated potential outcomes of such transformational measures -- improved levels of credibility, increase in new leadership, and, ultimately, a significant growth of campaign revenues that can be judiciously invested in the community priorities.

I knew I had to "hit the ground running" to continue the momentum started with the launch of our new plan. Immediately, I recommended significant improvements in our operational efficiency. We have, to date, cut our operating and administrative costs by approximately $1.3 million and we continue to look at other means of improvement.

Over the years, most federations, and our federation is no exception, have been scrutinized for high cost of operations and lack of clarity in the way the dollars raised are invested. We're going to change this perception! We're going to operate at peak efficiency; we're going to fund only the programs that demonstrate significant return on philanthropic investments; we're going to be transparent with our funding; we're going to be clear about our achievements; we're going to let our results speak for themselves. And we're going to do it sooner rather than later. That is my goal and my promise to the community.

This is the same promise I made to our Board of Directors when I announced my initial plans for reorganization. The response has been very gratifying -- the Board unanimously approved my plan and vowed to support me in its execution.

I am pleased with the successes the organization has realized already. I would like to highlight some of the achievements that I feel best illustrate Federation's new direction and the work we have already undertaken to increase organizational efficiency.

We were able to mobilize our community to raise more than $13 million in a matter of months for the Israel Emergency Fund. This fundraising success is significant for three reasons. One, we had a terrific IEF Campaign Chair (I. Michael Colsov), and a very strong group of IEF leaders -- some who were first-time Federation leaders -- who dedicated themselves to mobilizing the community to support Israel. Two, rabbis and synagogues worked very closely with Federation to garner support for IEF. This collaboration exhibits just the type of community credibility and support we want to have, and I am thankful to the IEF leadership and rabbinic community for standing behind us. And three, we were able to achieve this milestone without adding any staff or resources. In other words, 100 percent of the funds raised through the IEF Campaign went directly to support Israel.

Federation's Policy, Strategy & Funding Committee is rolling out a new allocations process which will be implemented for the 2007-2008 funding cycle. We have transitioned from an annual allocations process based on funding precedent to a Request for Proposals model to ensure Federation is focused on funding a limited number of priority areas within the community. Federation will evaluate each proposal for quality of service and efficiency.

To ensure this new RFP process comes full circle, we have hired a research staff to define and measure the outcomes of each program we fund going forward. Ours is the first Federation in the country to dedicate staff solely to research. The combination of the RFP process and focus on measurement will enable us to show donors exactly how their money was spent, which gives us the transparency I feel is mandatory to achieve our goals.

A critical piece to becoming more efficient and boosting our fundraising is our ability to attract the area's best leaders. To this end, Federation has created a three-year leadership development program designed to provide entry points into our community for up-and-coming leaders and to offer high-level programming to recruit some of the strongest communal leaders. An extremely fine advisory committee is guiding this pilot program. More than $1.2 million has been raised for this initiative, which shows the confidence our donors have in this program and the importance they place on leadership development.

Additionally, I have formed the President's Task Force. This group, made up of some of the most influential business leaders, community leaders and philanthropists in Greater Philadelphia, will aid me in determining the best solutions for the most pressing issues facing our community. Especially important is the fact that the task force plans to complete its work within 6 months so that Federation can begin implementing the task force's recommendations. I am extremely grateful to task force members for partnering with Federation to tackle the toughest concerns of our Jewish community.

I'm also pleased that our Nominating Committee has just completed its extensive nominating process for the next Chairman of the Board and unanimously endorsed a candidate for this very important leadership position. The candidate has been informed and accepted the nomination. This has happened much earlier than in past years and is certainly indicative of our leadership development efforts. Succession is a critical piece of any organization's governance process, and we have already identified two individuals who could potentially succeed the next Chairman.

Just recently, we completed Super Sunday, our annual community fundraising effort. We surpassed our goal and raised over $1,300,000 for the 2007 Annual Campaign. This represents a significant increase (more than 25 percent) over dollars raised last year at this event.

I believe these successes are early indicators that Federation has truly turned a corner. My vision for Federation is to be on a level playing field with other major-city federations and to nearly double our annual campaign within five years. From the progress I have seen so far -- made possible by our donors, our leaders, our staff and our community -- I am confident that my vision will become a reality.

And finally, I want to make sure that I'm available to address issues, concerns and/or opportunities presented by community members. To that end, we have created a Community Bulletin Board where questions will be posted together with answers from me. If you would like to post a question for me, please log onto www.jewishphilly.org.

Ira M. Schwartz is president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

 

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