Right of Reply: Collective action can make every philanthropic dollar effective

Let's embrace the diversity of our interests and find ways to weave these various strands into a strong and rich tapestry.

By SANDY CARDIN
May 19, 2009 22:17
4 minute read.

 
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In their editorial entitled "Charity begins with priorities" (April 14), the editors of The Jerusalem Post suggest that the current economic climate requires the "rich" in our community to set aside their "philanthropic dalliances" in favor of funding communal needs determined by "collective decision-making." That certainly is one way to address the problem the Post describes as "too many organizations... and too much competition for resources" in American Jewish life. Of course, what may appear to be a "dalliance" to one philanthropist may be a strategic focus of another. Rather than bemoan the breadth and depth of Jewish interests, Jewish expression and Jewish spirituality, those of us who care deeply about the future of the Jewish community should embrace the diversity of our interests and find ways to weave these various strands into a strong and rich tapestry. What is required to make that happen is collective action, not collective decision-making. In Israel, as in the US and Canada, the newest organizations appearing on the scene, often with significant funding from previously untapped sources, represent a renewed spirit, energy and interest in Jewish life, all of which deserve to be nurtured rather than abandoned. THE KEY to success during the current economic climate is neither to spurn new ideas nor to continue to allow everyone to make Shabbat for themselves. Rather, we must allow those new ideas to take root in existing organizations while simultaneously encouraging those organizations to work together to eliminate unnecessary duplication and redundancies in the Jewish communal world. The time has come for us to take collective action to make sure that every philanthropic dollar is spent as efficiently and effectively as possible. Cooperation and collaboration are no longer sufficient by themselves; to borrow from Lee Iacocca, every responsible Jewish organization must lead, follow or get out of the way, either by closing their doors entirely or by finding ways to integrate their programs into stronger, more viable entities. Pursuing such an approach will require all of us - foundations and service providers alike - to make painful choices and decisions. And while no one likes to admit or accept that a project or program to which they have committed time and/or money is failing to meet the mark, the current situation demands that we think anew about all of our activities and seize this opportunity to restructure our organizations and initiatives so they have the greatest chance to succeed in the future. As the world learned from Jack Welch, the legendary CEO and chairman of General Electric, selling or closing businesses in which you are less than No. 1 or No. 2 in the marketplace is a proven way to move from weakness to strength. FORTUNATELY, BOTH private and public conversations about consolidation are beginning to take place in boardrooms throughout our community. For instance, Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, recently sent an open letter to faculty, students, alumni and friends of the HUC explaining the need to seriously consider consolidating its three stateside campuses (Cincinnati, Los Angeles and New York) into a new, more streamlined configuration, while still supporting its Jerusalem campus. Exploration of integrating the type of teacher training programs pioneered at CAJE (Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education) into JESNA (Jewish Education Service of North America) is ongoing, as are discussions between two of the leading organizations for Jewish teens: BBYO and PANIM. Other, more private deliberations are also proceeding. But probably not enough. For our community to realize the full benefit of greater collaboration and consolidation, bold action and visionary leadership will be required. And not only among our service providers; our philanthropists must also take a hard look at themselves. While the decision of Warren Buffet to leave his fortune to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the most extreme example of funder collaboration, many other opportunities and vehicles for philanthropic partnerships exist and are deserving of serious consideration. Not only could the growth of funding collaboratives generate greater leverage and increase efficiencies, it would substantially reduce the reliance many organizations place on a single donor and, in turn, help them avoid the fate of groups adversely impacted by the Madoff-related collapse of high-profile and generous foundations such as Chais and Picower. A shining example of how collective action can help our community is the impressive work of the Foundation for Jewish Camp. Under the able leadership of Jerry Silverman, the FJC is assisting individual camps while advocating for camping as a whole. Camps are improving and their numbers are growing because of the expertise the FJC is bringing to camping as a field. By establishing itself as a "center of excellence," the FJC has positioned itself to be a critical resource for individual camps. In partnership with several other foundations, we recently helped to launch a new American organization, Repair the World, in the hope that it will serve similar functions for program providers in the realm of Jewish service. And, in Israel, we hope the Haruv Institute will play a comparable role for organizations engaged in the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. Our community has long talked about greater cooperation and collaboration. Now, the time to act has arrived. Consolidation and collective action represent two approaches with the greatest potential to encourage Jewish life to flourish. The writer is president of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and Schusterman Foundation-Israel.

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