The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has selected a woman from outside the region to lead the community’s central fundraising body.
The CEO-designate is Naomi Adler, a 47-year-old attorney who left the practice of law to pursue a career in nonprofit fundraising and management.
She began that phase of her career in the Jewish communal world, but spent the past 13 years as a top executive with the United Way. She currently is the president and CEO of United Way in Westchester and Putnam counties in New York, a post she has served since 2008.
The daughter of a renowned Jewish composer and the wife of a Reform rabbi, Adler is deeply connected to Judaism and Jewish life. She has no previous ties to the Philadelphia area, whose community numbers an estimated 214,000 Jews in the five-county region.
She is slated to assume the helm of Federation in early May. She will replace Alex Stroker, who was named interim CEO after the abrupt departure last May of Ira Schwartz. Stroker will stay on as interim CEO until Adler’s arrival.
Adler will arrive at a time of transition and challenge for the Jewish Federation, which funds social service, education, Jewish identity and Israel-related programs. The annual campaign has begun to tick upwards after several years of a double-digit decline. Campaign revenues, including giving to the general Jewish communal fund and restricted giving to the Federation’s three specialized centers, was up 3 percent in 2013, from $24.8 million to $25.5 million, according to Federation officials.
Federation’s board of directors last week approved Adler’s appointment, accepting the recommendation of the CEO search committee
. The 14-member committee, which was headed by Susanna Lachs Adler (no relation), has been working for the past six months to find the next CEO.
“We could not be more pleased to welcome Naomi Adler as our next CEO,” said Sherrie Savett, president of the Jewish Federation. She said the committee chose from an “excellent field of candidates” but a consensus evolved around Adler.
“She seemed to have everything we wanted for our Federation — she’s a visionary, a great communicator, a spiritual person imbued in Judaism,” Savett said. “She has a proven track record as a successful major gifts fundraiser, and she also has exceptional people skills, enabling her to build strong relationships and consensus.”
Savett said the search committee “was particularly struck” by Adler’s reputation “as an inspirational and tireless leader who successfully managed her organization through significant change. We are confident Naomi is the right leader at the right time for Philadelphia.”
For her part, Adler said she was honored by the appointment and expressed excitement about moving to Philadelphia with her family.
“I am extremely excited to partner with our leadership to set a vision for the future as this work is essential to so many in the community,” she said in a prepared statement.
In an interview with the Exponent,
she added: “What an incredible opportunity to combine my Jewish identity and spiritual being with my professional role.”
Savett, who is the third female lay leader of Federation, said the search was “completely gender blind” because “we were looking for the very best candidate.” However, Savett added that she is excited and “particularly pleased that Naomi is the first woman to lead our Federation in 60 years.”
In fact, when Adler assumes her position, she likely will be the only woman to head a Federation in what the organization characterizes as a large city in the United States. The only other woman to lead a major federation, Jennifer Gorovitz, is leaving her post at the San Francisco federation at the end of March after five years.
Originally from Rochester, N.Y., Adler graduated from Mount Holyoke College and SUNY Buffalo School of Law. She started out in private practice in Rochester but joined the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office as an assistant D.A. in 1992. Her reputation as a successful prosecutor in cases of violence against women and children led to her appointment as director of the SAFE (Stop Abuse in the Family Environment) prosecutorial program.
She left the formal practice of law to focus on fundraising and nonprofit management. Her first experiences in this realm were Jewish-centered.
She served as director of the Community Relations Council and Women’s Division of the Jewish Federation of Dayton, Ohio, from 1997 to 1998. Following that, she was the director of development at Rutgers University’s Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life from 1999 to 2001.
Adler’s leadership has resulted in many organizational awards and honors, including national, state and local recognition for innovative intergenerational programming and exceptional emergency response. She first gained national attention more than 15 years ago for her role in establishing a Hate Crime Task Force for the state of Ohio.
In 2001, she took her first post at United Way. She served as president and CEO of United Way of Rockland County for seven years and then moved to her current position overseeing the central fundraising body that funds education, health and income initiatives for disadvantaged populations in Westchester and Putnam counties.
Adler and her husband, Rabbi Brian Beal, currently live in Nanuet, N.Y., with their three young boys. Beal serves as the senior rabbi of Temple Beth Torah, a Reform congregation in Upper Nyack, N.Y.
In announcing Adler’s appointment, Savett thanked the search committee, which was comprised of past and current Federation leaders, for their “wisdom and counsel” as they engaged in a “thoughtful and thorough national search,” with the aid of a national firm, DRG Executive Search.
She also had special praise for interim CEO Stroker: “Our entire Jewish community owes a debt of gratitude to Alex for ensuring that, under his steady hand and strong leadership, our programs and fundraising efforts continued to move forward while we conducted our search,” she said.
Savett said that Adler will come to Philadelphia before she officially begins her job, possibly in March, to spend a couple of days meeting board members, lay leaders, donors, agency executives, Federation staff, rabbis and other key stakeholders.
When asked if Adler’s lack of prior connection to Philadelphia would be a blessing or a curse, Savett said she thought it would be “positive to have a pair of fresh eyes on our community.”
“There will be a learning curve,” Savett said, but “she’s a quick learner and we will all help her. She’s open to change but she will recognize the things we are doing well. She will balance the change with the continuity.”
Noting that the Federation campaign has increased over the past few years, Savett said she is looking ahead to a bright future. Under Adler’s leadership, Savett asserted, “we are going to reach new heights as a federation.”