Dan Silna, president of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, wants to "make the tent broader for federation." He sees the upcoming Super Sunday fund-raiser as "a way to reach out to those people who are not directly involved in what federation does people who need that little push to get them to recognize their responsibility to the Jewish community."
That "little push" is necessary, said Silna earlier this week, because fund-raising has fallen flat in the last four years. But he’s hopeful that a change in strategy will provide a needed boost so that the organization can meet its goal of $14.5 million in ‘008.
Scheduled for Jan. ‘7 at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey in River Edge, Super Sunday is the federation’s biggest fund-raising day of the year. It attracts hundreds of volunteers who call on fellow community members for support of the 84 agencies sustained by federation funding.
"It’s a day when you walk through YNJ and see hundreds of people actively participating," said UJA-NNJ Executive Vice President Howard Charish. "Agencies turn out, synagogues turn out; it’s a community day."
Last year’s Super Sunday brought $1.1 million to UJA-NNJ. This year, organizers want to raise at least $1.’ million and, in addition to regular donors, they plan to call upon unaffiliated members of the community to meet that goal.
While fund-raising is an important component of Super Sunday, the day is also about community building, said Jonah Halper, director of UJA-NNJ’s Young Leadership Division. More than 600 volunteers are expected to come out to make phone calls, collect pledge cards, and help the day run smoothly.
"The whole energy is about helping the organized Jewish community," he said. "A lot of people’s Jewish contact happens on Super Sunday. It translates into a lot of Jewish conversations and, obviously, giving."
UJA-NNJ identifies about 100,000 Jews in its catchment area but it reaches only about 15 percent of that number, according to Silna. The root of the problem lies in what people know or rather, don’t know about UJA-NNJ.
"I don’t think the majority of the Jewish community really understands all the things federation does domestically," Silna said. "We have to do a better job of explaining what we do so that people will understand that federation is a fund-raising organization to the general Jewish community."
Expanding its reach into the community would go a long way toward reversing a downward trend in donations.
UJA-NNJ raised more than $’0 million in ‘007 in what Charish described as "a landmark and historic campaign" that saw the federation’s highest intake ever. But while $6.1 million of that money went specifically toward the Israel Emergency Campaign, set up after the Second Lebanon War to aid communities in Israel’s north, the federation’s annual campaign to fund local programming remained at the same levels as previous years.
"When people gave to the IEC, many people considered that their gift for the year," Silna said. Without the IEC contributions, ‘007 donations hovered just above $14 million, where the campaign has remained for each of the last three years.
"What we have found is that our community is extraordinarily generous when Israel is in crisis and they respond each time," Charish said. "It does not necessarily mean that those dollars get rolled over on an annual basis."
While $14 million is a respectable number, the stagnation bodes ill in a community where philanthropists often dole out gifts in the million-dollar range for other causes. But the fundraising problems follow a national trend among donors, Silna said. The pool of regular donors is aging and shrinking, while new donors may give their dollars to specific causes rather than a middleman that would disperse the funds across a wide spectrum. United Jewish Communities elaborated on the problem at last year’s General Assembly, and UJA-NNJ is ahead of the curve in recognizing the trend, Silna said.
"This is a problem facing federations across the country as a general rule. The number of donors to the campaign is shrinking; dollars are remaining flat," he said. "We’ve recognized it early and we are changing."
That change includes a new collaborative fund-raising model to attract new blood. The pilot program, which is still in its infancy but being tested at a handful of federations across the country, allows donors to direct their contributions toward specific programs and follow the results. This is what the next generation of donors wants, said Silna to know that their dollars are helping specific causes rather than going just to one central organization.
"We have to do a better job of explaining what we do so that people will understand that federation is a fund-raising organization to the general Jewish community," Silna said. "And without federation many of our beneficiary agencies would have a very difficult time surviving."
The federation is also placing a greater emphasis on trips to Israel, with three missions set to go beginning next month. "[N]othing makes people understand what federation does as much as a trip to Israel," Silna said.
In that vein, Birthright Israel is also receiving a boost to help connect a younger generation to Israel and what the federation does there. UJA-NNJ sent its first busload on the trip last year and hopes to send two busloads in June. The Berrie Foundation has also made a $’50,000 matching grant for the federation’s Birthright program. Almost $1’0,000 has been collected to date.
Organizers plan to draw attention to the federation’s new focus when volunteers begin swarming through YNJ in two weeks. They are confident that this year will mark a change in direction for fund-raising goals, beginning with Super Sunday.
"Everybody’s playing a very important role to strengthen what we do," said Charish. "It’s a day of good feeling and caring."
By the numbers
UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s annual campaign from ‘005 to ‘008
*This figure does not include the $6.1 million raised for the Israel Emergency Campaign.
Goal for ‘008 $14.5 million