Three months. Three million dollars.
That is the time frame and the monetary target as the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) seeks to wrap up its annual fund drive with an “all star community challenge.”
“We’re trying to create a sense of desire and urgency to contribute to the annual campaign over the next three months,” says Jason Shames, chief executive officer of the federation. The end of June marks the end of JFNNJ’s fiscal year. “We’re getting down to the nitty gritty,” he says, citing the need to be able to have the year’s pledges in place before finalizing next year’s allocations.
Currently, the campaign has raised two-thirds of the $9 million it hopes to raise, from half of the 7,500 donors it hopes to tap.
The way the federation bookkeeping works, pledges must be in place by the end of the fiscal year, but do not need to be paid by the donor until the end of the calendar year.
“If we don’t raise the money, people are going to go hungry. Kids won’t go to school and camp – not just here, but in the former Soviet Union and Israel, as well,” he says.
Putting a name and dollar figure on the final phase of the federation’s annual campaign is part of the rethinking of the organization’s long-established procedures which has been underway at the charity.
“What we’ve been doing for 20 or 30 years probably has not been the most strategically optimized in the right way,” says Jason. With senior federation officials given new roles at the beginning of March, “they have re-imagined the process of raising the funds. It’s a result of a real analysis of where we are, where we need to be, what strategies are available to us – and coming up with something different.”
Jodi Heimler, who now oversees the campaign as managing director of development (she had previously directed women’s philanthropy at JFNNJ) was one of those involved in the process of creating the all-star challenge.
“We wanted to jazz things up, create a buzz in the community, rally everyone around the concept of raising money for the annual campaign – especially now as we come down the home stretch,” she says.
“We realized we need to rev things up, need to create excitement, be a little more proactive in our efforts to reach our goal for the campaign of about $9 million.
“We’ve always felt this push at the end of the campaign year in our campaign department. It’s always been an internal thing; we haven’t really extended it out to the whole team, the team of the volunteer solicitors, and the team of the whole community,” she says.
Heimler senses the philanthropic mood in the community is improving. “People are feeling a little better about their charitable giving. Maybe people are feeling a little more secure, because things are better on Wall Street.
“We received over $300,000 in new gifts” – that is, donations from people who had not previously donated to JFNNJ. “Last year at this time, it was about $230,000. We’re hoping that’s a good barometer.”
Carol Silberstein, a JFNNJ volunteer who chairs this year’s campaign (“it’s almost a full-time job”) says the goal “is totally doable. We have a very committed Jewish community.”
“We do so many things,” she says of the federation. “But if we’re not out there actively letting the community know what we’re doing, we will not be able to do the programs that all of us want to do.”
Silberstein says that when she talks about federation, she has to hold back her desire to tell of the dozens of programs the organization funds in New Jersey and around the world. For a bigger impact, she finds, “I have to focus on three or four things we do that are unique, that make us a central address for the Jewish community.”
The federation is highlighting three stories in its marketing efforts this spring – efforts that include a series of advertisements in this newspaper, as well as a direct mail solicitation going out to about 1,800 people who have donated to the federation in the past but have not yet made a pledge for 2012.
One story is that of Bonim Builders, the JFNNJ program that helps renovate homes for low-income families, seniors, and the handicapped. In particular, it focuses on the installation of a ramp which enabled “Max” to attend the Passover seder.
Another story focuses on the role that the federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council played in providing a central address for Bergen County officials to address the community’s security concerns in the wake of the recent anti-Semitic attacks on area synagogues.
The third story concerns a doctor from Israel who was able to learn about bloodless medicine in northern New Jersey thanks to the charity’s Partnership 2Gether sister city program with Nahariya.
This focus on specific programs is part of a broader shift underway at federation, which is moving from being a fundraising agency for specific beneficiary agencies locally and overseas, to instead funding specific programs. Silberstein was involved in a piece of that transition, overseeing the allocations of the federation’s Adler Innovation Fund, which chose to fund six programs out of 75 proposals received. Now, a committee is meeting to evaluate programs in Israel and elsewhere overseas, as JFNNJ begins funding such programs directly rather than simply sending money to the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
At JFNNJ’s Paramus headquarters, the all-star campaign is being marked with a giant thermometer measuring its progress. It is also being marked with a campaign among federation staff, which began this week.
“We’re looking for one hundred percent participation from my colleagues here,” said Heimler.
She said the federation will also be reaching out to “board members who sit on the boards of our beneficiary agencies,” as well as members of the various federation boards and committees.