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(photo credit: Courtesy)
The umbrella organization of the North American Jewish federation system has hired Jerry Silverman, a key player in raising tens of millions of dollars for Jewish summer camps, as its next president and CEO.
Silverman was tapped to take the reins at the United Jewish Communities, which serves as the North American arm of a federation system that raises and distributes about $3 billion annually from its general campaigns, endowments and special fund-raising drives.
Since 2004, Silverman has served as the executive director of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, overseeing the growth of the organization's budget from slightly more than $1m. per year to more than $22m.
A former high-level executive at the Levi Strauss and Co. and at the Stride Rite Corp., Silverman will succeed Howard Rieger on September 30, a month after Rieger's term as chief executive ends.
At UJC, Silverman faces a series of challenges, starting with a shrinking budget and increasing questions about the need for a national system.
"I am going into this really clearly, with my eyes open," he said. "I will be doing an inordinate amount of listening as we really look to put our agenda together going forward."
Federation campaigns across the country have been down or stagnating in recent years, a problem that has been exacerbated by the recession. In the past week, UJC officials said they project a 13 percent decrease in the system-wide campaign this year, and the country's biggest federation, the UJA-Federation of New York, said its campaign in 2008-09 was off by more than 11%. UJA-Federation typically brings in some $150m. annually.
Local federations and their umbrella have been in a constant struggle over the federations' dues paid to the UJC. In March, the federations mandated that the UJC reduce its budget from $37m. this year to $30.3m., resulting in scores of layoffs.
Federations have long felt tension between having to satisfy their own philanthropic needs in their local communities and their obligation as members of the UJC system to dedicate large portions of their annual campaigns to the system's overseas partners, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
"All those federations are shareholders, and we have to ensure that for every dollar these shareholders invest in UJC, there is a true added value," Silverman said.
While some within the system had been pushing for an executive at a big-city federation to take the job - like Silverman's three predecessors - Silverman said he was fine with being an outsider and thought it would serve him well.
"I haven't worked in the federation system, but I truly believe that no matter whether I am an outsider or insider, in any move I had made career-wise it is all about developing a very clear vision and having a top-notch, results-oriented organization that is extremely open to listening and to trying to constantly exceed expectations so that their services are in demand," he said. "If we do that as an organization, then the question about me being an insider or an outsider becomes moot."
Silverman said he had been initially approached about the job in November at the annual UJC General Assembly in Jerusalem, and that he became serious about his candidacy in March - though he did not accept until after conducting intense due diligence with those inside and outside the system.
Local federations and the UJC were made aware of his hiring Monday afternoon.
"Jerry has proven himself to be a visionary and results-oriented leader who put Jewish camping on the communal map," the head of the search committee and the incoming chair of the UJC, Kathy Manning, told the UJC staff in an internal communication Monday.
Silverman, who helped popularize the Dockers brand while at Levi's, comes to an organization that has spent millions on market research in an attempt to rebrand itself, recently leading to the decision by the UJC to rename itself UJC/Jewish Federations of North America at some point next winter.
"His understanding of the importance of the next generation and multiple audiences is really fortuitous for the organization," said Joe Kanfer, the UJC's current chairman and the CEO of GOJO Industries, which makes Purell hand sanitizer. "He clearly understands the importance of communications and branding."
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