For more than 20 years, Lyn and Roy Neff have been addressing the needs of the Jewish community through the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. For Lyn Neff, involvement began when a friend introduced her to what was then Federation's Young Women's Division. For Roy Neff, it was when his business partner, Richard Cooper, recommended he attend a Federation event for the investment industry.
Lyn Neff, who chairs Federation's Center for Social Responsibility and serves on the Board of Trustees and the President's Task Force Subcommittee for the Elderly, is committed to ensuring that the Jewish poor and elderly have, at the minimum, their most basic needs met. Eight years ago she helped form the Taskforce on Jewish Poverty (now called the Committee for the Jewish Poor as part of the Center for Social Responsibility), which focuses on identifying and prioritizing the important issues of Greater Philadelphia's Jewish poor and at-risk community members. The committee also makes recommendations on funding to provide a safety net of services to this population. "My hope and goal is to alleviate the poverty that is endemic in Greater Philadelphia's Jewish community," she said.
Through the center and the committee, Lyn Neff feels that Federation is making a difference in the community, especially by coordinating services among Jewish agencies. "Where I feel the Federation is playing a key role is by raising funds and being a conduit for agency collaboration. It is extremely rewarding to see the results of our efforts. We are reducing redundancies and holding programs accountable for their actions."
Lyn Neff would like to see greater recognition in the community of the issue of Jewish poverty. "I feel strongly that it is our responsibility to care for those who are less fortunate, and I feel privileged to be in the position to make a difference in the lives of others."
Roy Neff, who chairs Federation's Investment Committee and serves on Federation's President's Task Force, Board of Directors and Board of Trustees, shares his wife's passion for caring for local at-risk Jews. "I, too, am most concerned about the poor, elderly and needy," he said. "I feel like Federation has to be a safe haven for Jews in need."
Through Federation, the Neffs endowed a directed gift to Jewish Family and Children's Service's Crisis Center, which provides emergency aid to community members requiring assistance with their mortgage or rent, utility bills, or other pressing financial needs. "It's a concrete way we've had a measurable effect on the community," said Roy Neff.
"While Lyn had always given a lot of her time to working with Federation," he continued, "my involvement had been through the checkbook. But lately, I've decided to become more active in Federation's governance because I think Federation can do a better job than it has of impacting our community."
Commenting on the leadership of Ira M. Schwartz, Federation President and CEO, Roy Neff said, "Ira's approach is that Federation needs to rely on techniques from the for-profit world to be its best. He's doing creative things, like setting up the President's Task Force to bring our community's business leaders and entrepreneurial minds to bear on Federation's mission. He's on top of the fact that we need to come up with objective metrics that we can use to evaluate the success of the agencies and programs that we're funding.
"I've asked the board to go even further than this. In the final analysis, we need to be able to prove to our donors that they're getting a great bang for their buck. I'd like to make it possible to measure the 'social return on investment' of our programs. While there are other innovative non-profits that are already doing this, I think I would still call Federation 'ahead of the curve' if we can pull this off."
Roy Neff also believes that Federation's business model, Strategic Philanthropy, which calls for Federation to live within its means and focus on supporting only the community's most pressing needs through fundraising and measuring the impact of its efforts, is taking Federation in the right direction. "It seems to me that the biggest directive of Strategic Philanthropy is to divide the activities of Federation into three areas: social responsibility, Jewish life and learning, and Israel and overseas," he said. "I think this makes sense because it makes it easier to engage donors who have one overriding area of interest."
Lyn Neff feels that she not only has been able to give to others through her involvement in Federation, she has also received through the process as well. "Federation is a vehicle that allows me to make a difference in people's lives," she said. "It's wonderful being part of an organization where people have the same passions as I do."
One of the most gratifying results of the couple's philanthropy has been the effect it has had on their adult son and daughter, Philip and Robyn. "Our children have seen what's important to us and seen the actions we've taken," said Lyn Neff. "Now we see them taking action and incorporating giving into their lives."