Federations moving to new planning model

As a new, results-focused method of giving spreads through the United Jewish Communities system.

As a new, results-focused method of giving spreads through the United Jewish Communities system, the days may soon be gone when Jewish federations simply raised money and doled it out to their subsidiary agencies. A trend toward greater transparency in the federation system, and a desire by donors to know exactly how their dollars are being spent, has started to push the Jewish philanthropic world away from the traditional model in which federations allocated money primarily to service agencies with which they had official relationships. Those agencies, such as Jewish family service groups and local boards of Jewish education, set their own budgets and spent the money as they saw fit. Many say that model caused federation campaigns to stagnate. A growing number of federations are moving to a strategic-planning method that involves a combination of outcomes- and priorities-based planning. Outcomes-based planning, which has been used in the private sector for some three decades, requires recipient organizations to show they are spending grants wisely. After the money is spent, the recipient must show the effect it had. In priorities-based funding, a federation starts by identifying community needs before allocating any money. The federation then reaches out to organizations - either inside or outside the federation system - to make grant proposals to solve those needs. When the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties employed the method two years ago, it started with a strategic-planning process that named five areas of priority. One was welcoming interfaith families, according to planning director Karen Bluestone. A recent demographic study showed that about 75 percent of Jews in Marin and Sonoma counties, where nearly 50,000 of the San Francisco area's 250,000 Jews live, were intermarried. Within that group, however, many families sent their children to Jewish nursery schools. So the federation worked with the Union for Reform Judaism, which is not typically a recipient of San Francisco federation money, to create a sensitivity training program for employees of synagogues, JCCs and early childhood education centers to make them more accessible to non-Jewish parents. The federation also started working with a progressive organization called Milestones to help Jews who do not identify with synagogues or other Jewish institutions bring Jewish rituals, such as the brit milah and bar/bat mitzvah, into their lives on terms they found palatable. The federation also offered grants to individual synagogues with programs to attract unaffiliated Jews. Before it switched to the outcomes-based planning method, the federation gave only $11,300 a year to individual synagogues, but since 2004-2005 the number has increased to $131,645. Likewise, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, which started using the new model over the past year, has been able to engage some 35 rabbis in the discussion about how to serve the area's rapidly growing Jewish population. In years past, only one or two rabbis had been involved in federation planning, and no Atlanta synagogue received federation money, according to Shira Ledman, the federation's chief planning officer. Organizations that receive grants must demonstrate each year that they are getting positive results or the grants will end. That has forced traditional recipients of federation money to reinvent themselves and come up with more innovative ideas, says Ira Schwartz, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which switched to the model a few years ago. The Philadelphia federation is the first in the country to hire a research staff to define and measure the outcomes of each program funded. "A lot of agency directors are not happy because this means their ongoing source of support, to use as they wanted, is not there anymore," Schwartz said. Aside from cutting fat and reducing some overlap, since organizations aren't duplicating programming, the new model has allowed funders to see exactly how their money is spent, as the federation can now market ideas and programs to donors rather than service organizations. "The trend has changed to where our donors want to understand the impact their dollars are having," Shari Stimetz, assistant executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City - which in 1999 became one of the first federations in the country to use an outcomes-based model - told JTA. "When you allocate money to an agency, donors see this as money going into a black hole because they don't see where the dollars go." The Kansas City federation has seen a dramatic increase in its general campaign, which was "stuck" in the $4 million range before 1998 but now has grown to $5.1 million. The federation has seen an even greater increase in restricted dollars that donors give for specific projects above the general campaign. Restricted donations have risen from $500,000 per year in 1998 to $2 million per year in 2006, according to Stimetz. Most federations using the new model have seen their revenue stream rise. For example, the San Francisco federation saw its general campaign increase from $22.9 million in 2004-05 to $24.6 million the next year. Its campaign goal for 2006-07 is $26.5 million, according to Bluestone. The Philadelphia federation thinks it can increase its unrestricted allocations from about $23 million this year to $40 million or $50 million in five years, Schwartz said. The new model also has allowed federations to engage, for specific projects, foundations that normally would not have given them money. The UJA-Federation of New York, which began using an outcomes- and priorities-based process in 1999, identified caring for the aging as a core need. It was able to secure a $1 million grant from the Baltimore-based Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation to start New York's first regional system of Jewish hospices. The change in the 155-federation UJC system really has begun in earnest in the past four years, UJC officials said. There are now pilot strategic-planning models that incorporate some form of outcomes- and priorities-based planning in as many as 19 cities, according to Becky Sobleman-Stern, vice president of UJC Consulting. "The old way of business just doesn't work anymore," Schwartz said. But others are not sold. As the Boston federation enters the early stages of a strategic-planning process, it will look at the possibility of incorporating some outcomes-based planning methodology, said Patty Jacobson, vice president of marketing and community building for the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston. But she noted that "there are some important things we have to consider first." For one, switching to an outcomes-based method involves a fundamental rewriting of the relationship between a federation and its subsidiary agencies - not an easy task, Jacobson said. And the reporting itself can be problematic because it is hard to measure how effective, for instance, a Jewish Family Service is at helping people, unlike in the business world, where outcomes can be measured in dollars on the bottom line. Much of the funding that federations give to their partner agencies is "basic, lights-on funding," and such operational costs don't show up in outcomes-based reporting, Jacobson noted.