Departure sparks federation shifts
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Departure sparks federation shifts

JFNNJ uses staff opening to rethink structure

The evolution of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) continues.

Senior staff has taken on new responsibilities, and work is beginning on new initiatives that will help chart future directions for the federation in the years ahead.

This comes as federation chief Jason Shames marks eight months at the JFNNJ helm, and as the charity continues to implement the recommendations of its recent strategic planning process.

In a high-level shuffling of administrative portfolios, David Gad-Harf, who had been chief operating officer for six years (including a stint as interim chief executive officer), has been named chief development officer.

In addition to assuming responsibility for fundraising, Gad-Harf will continue to oversee marketing and communication for the federation, and its relationships with beneficiary and other Jewish agencies.

Many of his operational responsibilities will become the responsibility of Chief Financial Officer Robin Greenfield.

These changes in responsibility follow the departure of former Chief Development Officer Larry Cohen, who has assumed a post with American Friends of Bar-Ilan University.

“We had to reshuffle the deck a little,” said Shames.

“It offered an opportunity to reevaluate how we’re structured, and to try to come up with the best structure to meet our needs,” said Gad-Harf.

“We are building a more integrated structure,” he said, with all aspects of the organization “working in tandem to engage people, to convey the right messages, to offer opportunities for involvement and philanthropy.”

Gad-Harf now heads a fundraising staff of 10 professionals, as well as around 80 volunteer solicitors. In line with the unifying of marketing and development, however, he emphasizes that everyone involved in the charity is in the fundraising business, even if they are not directly soliciting.

“I want to define fundraising very broadly so every volunteer, every staff member of federation, understands they have a role to pay and they have a stake in our success. Everyone can play a very meaningful role in fundraising by widening the circle of people who feel the investment in federation’s success and the future of our Jewish community.”

Another new development in the fundraising department is the hiring of Andy Arenson to work on “donor cultivation and stewardship” in what JFNNJ is calling “the Palisades corridor.”

The federation last had such a position “years and years ago,” said Shames.

That area – which includes towns from Englewood and Tenafly up north through Closter and Demarest and Rockleigh – “has some very successful Jewish institutions, and is rife with people who are engaged Jewishly,” said Shames.

Arenson “is somebody who lives there and fits some of those demographic profiles of what exists in those communities,” he said, and has the responsibility “to reach out to peers and others involved to get them involved in the broader Jewish community,” he said.

Meanwhile, looking to the western side of the northern New Jersey Jewish community, the federation is finalizing a task force to examine the region “west of the Garden State Parkway, as far west as Wayne and even Paterson,” said Shames, the area formerly covered by the Jewish Federation of North Jersey, which merged with the Jewish Federation of Bergen County and North Hudson in 2004 to create what is now known as the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Dubbed the North Jersey Task Force, the committee is being chaired by the JFNNJ’s immediate past president, Alan Scharfstein, and includes representatives from area institutions, including the Wayne Y, the Bergen YJCC, and the Gerrard Berman Day School.

“The federation has been proactive in bringing this agenda to the table. The question up front is whether these agencies are in the right place, providing the right services, and then what can we do to provide the right service,” said Shames.

JFNNJ is also embarking on a marketing study that will examine the entire northern New Jersey Jewish community. “The study will tell us where people are living, what they’re interested in, and what they’re willing to support philanthropically,” he said.

“We’re going to look beyond demographics into behavioral trends and psychological analyses. What are the consumer and philanthropic trends in the community?” he said.

The goal is “to help us understand the community, where it is and where it’s going. The information we’re collecting is not only for federation, but for anyone ineterested in the Jewish marketplace of New Jersey.”

And in an endeavor that is just beginning, JFNNJ is forming a committee to examine its governance and how its board operates. “This is all being driven by the recommendations of the strategic plan,” said Shames.

Reflecting on his months in New Jersey, Shames said he “is surprised by how tough it is to raise funds here. Philanthropy in northern New Jersey is a real, real issue for 90 percent of the institutions in our catchment area. It’s a long term issue for 100 percent of them. One of our biggest challenges is turning people from consumers into philanthropists.”

Gad-Harf said he is convinced that the community can meet that challenge.

“We have here in northern New Jersey a tremendous amount of untapped potential to do good and make important things happen, to strengthen our Jewish community, both here in New Jersey and in other parts of the world. I’m determined to unleash our potential, and I’m just confident that we’re going to make this happen over the next several years,” he said.

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