Strengthening the partnerships

Why collaboration between Jewish federations and foundations has never been more essential.

ujc leaders 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
ujc leaders 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Today, the North American Jewish federation system and Jewish community foundations together boast endowment funds whose value exceeds $13 billion. It's an impressive figure by any accounting and, according to a new study released last week, is just one measure reflecting a system in which both federations and foundations are collaborating effectively. In recent years, with federations continuing to expand and foundations becoming an increasingly significant funding source in the Jewish community, successful partnership between the two has become more and more important. This is why we at the United Jewish Communities commissioned the new study, "Understanding collaboration between Federations and Foundations in communities with separately-incorporated Jewish Community Foundations" - in the interest of fostering strategic alignment between America's 155 federations and 35 independent Jewish community foundations, one which has not always existed in each community. The goal of the study, sponsored by UJC's Planned Giving and Endowment and Research and Analysis departments and carried out by Bussel Philanthropy Associates, was to look at the relationships and partnerships that exist between these organizations and how they align with community needs. We hoped to identify the ways in which federations and foundations work together, recognize the areas in which they are partnering and determine how these practices are serving both the organizations themselves and the larger Jewish community-and how to do so more effectively. What we learned was heartening. THE GREAT majority of federation and foundation leaders -who some observers view as competitors - believe that working together is beneficial. At the same time, they also see value in their organizations maintaining their separateness. True, collaborative practices are evolving as the organizations explore the benefits and limitations of collaboration. But there is an overarching sentiment among those leading these groups that, while collaboration between federations and foundations may have been a matter of choice two decades ago, it now is essential if they hope to fully serve the Jewish community. Moreover, the study found fairly widespread collaboration in the area of fundraising, which has sometimes been a competitive arena. This is very good news. Among the events that have tended to trigger collaborative efforts are emergencies, like the Second Lebanon War, natural disasters like Katrina, and other special events; and a wider community effort among Jewish organizations and/or in the broader community to address non-profit and community issues. We hope to explore other areas where collaboration may prove effective. Thus far, for example, far less collaboration is taking place in the arenas of grantmaking and strategic planning, the study found. These are spots in which we ought to explore ways to improve in the aftermath of the report's release. In addition, the study found, communities that are outward looking, focusing on trends in demographics, Jewish life, philanthropy and non-profits, tend to see the utility in collaboration, viewing partnerships as a good way to respond to threats and capitalize on organizational strengths. This past June, UJC launched a new, overarching strategic plan aimed at meeting the challenges facing the Jewish community in the 21st century and embracing the myriad opportunities available to us. The new study's findings dovetail nicely with the plan, which we've already put into action. Part of that plan is what we call the Collaborative Model - an effort to drive a new culture in local federations to respond to the shifting trends in the philanthropic marketplace by maximizing our financial resource development and better integrating all of our systems and operations. We think that this new study may serve as an excellent baseline document for implementing the Collaborative Model - which not only is working where federations and foundations partner but, as we see it, is the very model for others to hold by. Even so, it is important to recognize the inherent challenges involved in maximizing collaborative outcomes with what are, and might remain, independent entities. How these organizations go about mining the potential upsides of collaborating is really the arena to which this study speaks. Among the study's recommendations, which we have already begun to address (notably at a Chicago meeting on Feb. 20 attended by federation and foundation leaders from across the country), are that we:
  • Work to foster respect and appreciation for the value of federations and foundations as separate organizations as well as collaborative entities.
  • Encourage communities to package their needs and priorities, along with the case to support them, in a way that will appeal to community donors.
  • Encourage federations to lend their expertise in areas such as needs assessments and community planning.
  • Institutionalize good collaborative outcomes.
  • Encourage strong relationships with secular community foundations and other organizations outside the Jewish community.
  • Develop criteria to evaluate whether grants and allocated dollars are being well spent. OVER THE last decade, endowment development has represented the single fastest-growing income stream for federations. Indeed, communities that have invested in endowment giving have seen enormous returns. It is as such that the Jewish community must focus on this area and invest in leadership, staff and infrastructure. An annual increase of just one percentage point could lead to substantial growth in distributable income for charitable purposes. Even given the remarkable financial growth of the 90's, along with current financial reverses, the long-term interests of the Jewish community will be buoyed a greater focus on this kind of giving. The future of world Jewry depends on the community's ability to work together rising to opportunities and meeting developing challenges head-on. This study confirms that fostering collaboration between federations and foundations is an essential component of this cooperation. It is through the collaborative approach and the deepening of ties between Jewish federations and foundations, that we have a new opportunity to pursue a common vision and common goals - to improve the quality of Jewish life individually and collectively and to participate in a broader dream to heal the world. By recommitting ourselves to partnership, we can innovate in ways not thought of before. We eagerly look forward to strengthening current partnerships and seeking out new ones in the future. The writer is president and CEO of the Board of Trustees of United Jewish Communities.