Alan Sweifach has a message for the community’s synagogues and day schools: The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) is here to help you.
Behind Sweifach’s lengthy job title – “co-managing director for community planning-capacity building and engagement” – is a commitment to looking at how all the region’s Jewish institutions can “each help each other to meet whatever the needs are.”
He is responsible for allocating federation money to local institutions, and helping the agencies increase their own capacities. And by institutions, he means the area’s “approximately 80 synagogues, 13 day schools, and eight major agencies,” the latter including three Jewish community centers or Ys, three Jewish family service agencies, and two homes for the elderly.
|Alan Sweifach thrives on helping area Jewish institutions help themselves.|
As part of his efforts, he has helped local Jewish institutions receive $2.6 million in federal homeland security grants over the past five years.
He helped forward the information about grant procedures as he received it and “boiled it down and synthesized it in a way that’s understandable.” The request for proposals from the federal government was written by and for grant writing professionals, but many of the synagogues and institutions applying for grants had lay leaders writing them, not professionals.
“I tried to give them the information and tools so they themselves could write them,” says Sweifach.
That is an example of how the federation can help other institutions help the community. “Rather than have every institution try to find out about the grant process for themselves, we can get the information for the entire community and pass it down and try to make life easier for them,” he says.
Sweifach says he encourages the agencies to apply, and wants them to know that “federation is there to help them every step of the way. That includes reviewing the applications, and critiquing them, and in some cases doing rewrites myself when I knew they would have a hard time.”
JFNNJ played a key role in getting, and administering, another federation grant: one devoted to “Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities,” or NORCs for short. Service for the grants are provided by the Jewish Family Service agencies and the Jewish homes. Three of those grants have brought $500,000 to northern New Jersey, he says.
As part of its new strategic plan, JFNNJ will begin making allocations in response to formal grant proposals, rather than as simple direct allocations to agencies. (The process was piloted with the grants given by the Adler Family Innovation Fund – see related article.)
“Our goal is to make it as easy for the agencies as possible,” he says of the new procedure. “We will help the agencies through it as best we can.”
And if the process leads to the agencies having better grant-writing skills, that would be a useful by-product. “The same things we may require from the agencies, other funding sources also require,” he says.
Sweifach’s advice for people filling out grant applications: “A lot of it is just common sense. Answer the questions in the way that they’re asking them. If you can’t follow the instructions the way they’re asking, that will be an indication to the funder that you can’t administer the program in the way they expect you to.”
Additionally, “funders these days are increasingly looking toward collaboration. They’re looking for people working together. If you don’t have the capacity yourself and you have a great idea for a great program, try to find someone who has the capacity to write that grant.”
Meanwhile, Sweifach keeps an eye out for grant opportunities that could help the local organizations. “If something is of interest to an agency or day school, I absolutely will forward it to them. If I can be of help in putting partners together, I will do it. If there is a role for ‘the fed’ in writing or advocating a community-wide grant, we will certainly be doing that.”
“The value-added federation can provide involves bringing the agencies together to meet the needs of the community in the best way possible,” he says.