Last year, the run-up to the annual conference of Jewish federations saw their umbrella body announce a name change and install a new CEO.
This year, months before the conference, the organization is making a late change to the conference’s venue – to New Orleans from Orlando, Fla. – and unveiling five new priority areas.
It’s all part of the ongoing struggle by the decade-old umbrella organization for federations – now called the Jewish Federations of North America – to prove its value to its 157 Jewish federations and, more specifically, to help the federations cope with the challenging philanthropic landscape brought on by the economic crisis.
The decision to move the 2010 General Assembly and the annual women’s philanthropy conference, the International Lions of Judah Conference, to New Orleans was due to practical considerations, federation officials said: Orlando simply didn’t have the necessary space.
“We needed to re-evaluate the venue,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations. “Unfortunately, the space in Orlando does not meet the needs that would best accommodate both events, and the alternatives in Orlando logistically would have compromised the momentum built from GA 2009.”
New Orleans, for which the federation system raised some $30 million in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, was an attractive substitute.
“In reviewing our options, it became clear that New Orleans was a community where we, as a Jewish community and family, could reflect on our collective responsibility and action together,” Silverman said.
Silverman addressed the other major change at the Jewish Federations – the announcement of its new priority areas – on a conference call Monday from Dallas, where the organization was holding its board meetings.
The five areas of focus that the organization hopes will guide the federation system into the future are financial resource development; positioning for the future; talent; the power of the collective; and Israel and overseas.
In harnessing the power of the collective, the federation system wants to figure out how to use the collective experience of its 157 member federations to do better fund-raising and programming, and share best practices and talent.
The focus areas have been developed over the past several months through discussions with dozens of local federations.
“We know we need to create a pipeline of talent both from within and outside of our federations,” said Kathy Manning, the Jewish Federations’ top lay leader. “We want to make sure we are creating a culture where federations become the place to be in the Jewish community.”
While the details have yet to be worked out, the umbrella body is considering creating a professional training program to help recruit talented recent college graduates into the federation system, Silverman said.
Silverman said he would like the program to be a collaboration of the entire system that could either funnel talent through the national office to local federations or cultivate talent on a local level.
“We have to flesh it out, put it to budget, size it, and see how we can do it – then pilot it,” he said. “We’re getting it ready for recruitment in the fall, when it is ready to rock ‘n’ roll.”
The General Assembly also will take place in the fall, with slightly different dates than originally planned: The GA will be Nov. 7-9, and the Lions of Judah Conference will take place Nov. 8-10.
The concerns with the original venue, Walt Disney World’s Yacht and Beach Club Resort, centered on whether the resort could handle the GA’s dining needs and how much it would cost to shuttle conference participants from location to location at Disney World.
The CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, Hope Kramer, said she found out about the decision within the past two weeks. While her federation is missing out on an opportunity, she said, Kramer believes the umbrella group made a decision that it felt was best for the entire federation system.
Having the GA in town “does invigorate and engage those who have not been involved for a while or are tired or getting stressed. That is a great shot in the arm; that is what I will miss,” Kramer told JTA. “I am concerned about the way it came to me, but it was clear it was just the best decision for the federations.
“Disney can do a lot of things, but we are talking about 6,000 people,” she said. “These hotels get really booked around here.”
The federations had a contract with Disney, and the financial ramifications of canceling were not immediately clear.
“We feel we will be able to work though it with minimal liability,” Silverman said.