Old goals, new approach

imageIn a change to its long-standing procedure, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) has allocated half-a-million dollars to 30 area projects that feed aged Shoah survivors, train Jewish high school and college students in Israel advocacy and leadership, help the unemployed find jobs, and provide professional education to area day school teachers, to list just a few examples.

This does not reflect a change in the federation’s goals and priorities – most of the 16 nonprofit organizations whose projects are being funded are long-time beneficiaries of the federation – but it constitutes a significant, if subtle, change in the federation’s procedure. It is the first step in a transformation of the federation’s funding process; within a few years, all its funds will be disbursed to individual projects rather than to their parent agencies.

The money allocated by the committee and announced to beneficiaries earlier this month is more than a quarter of the organization’s allocations to local charities.

The specific funds allocated to each project reflect the intense deliberation of dozens of volunteers who served on the federation’s local allocations committee. In a series of meetings, committee members judged the 53 proposals the federation received. Subcommittees evaluated each one, and the full committee allocated funds to the highest ranked proposals.

“It was a very intense process,” Sharyn J. Gallatin of Wyckoff, who headed the local allocations committee and oversaw the process, said.

The shift to funding programs rather than agencies is an outgrowth of the federation’s 2010 strategic plan. It is designed to create a closer connection between the donors who give to the federation’s fundraising efforts and the programs that the federation makes possible.

“It’s important for our community and our donors to see what it is that we are funding,” Gallatin said. “It’s important for us to say that these are the programs that we are funding under our umbrella.”

It also highlights the shift in Jewish federations. In their 20th century incarnation, they did not stray far from their origins; they began not as institutions but as communal welfare fundraising drives, raising money for the various local charitable agencies that provided social services. Now, in the words the Paramus-based federation uses today as its tag line, they see their task as “providing the leadership necessary to create a strong, collaborative, caring, and vibrant Jewish community.”

Next year, the allocations process will shift even more of its funding to programs rather than agencies. Overseas allocations – which now constitute 39 percent of federation allocations – also will begin to focus on project-based proposals.

In fact, the federation plans to revamp its allocation committees to make them topical rather than geographic. Instead of asking one group to make local funding decisions and another be responsible for international decisions, there will be three committees, each focused on a particular federation priority, considering both local and international funding proposals.

The three funding priorities – again, as determined by the strategic plan – are providing a safety net to Jews in need; advancing Jewish education, identity, and continuity; and forging a connection with Israel.

In this year’s program-based allocations, the largest category to receive funds was the safety net, which was allocated $290,150. The bulk of that went to six separate proposals from the two area Jewish family service agencies, the Teaneck-based Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson and the Jewish Family Service of North Jersey, based in Wayne and Fair Lawn.

“These are programs I feel are very important, such as feeding the hungry through the Kosher Meals on Wheels program,” Gallatin said.

One concern going into the process was the possibility that some of the traditional organizations that are most dependent on the federation’s funding – in particular, the family service agencies – would fare poorly in the process.

That proved not to be the case.

Between the unrestricted grants of the old system – this year’s were set at a percentage of last year’s support – and the programmatic grants, the Teaneck family service agency saw a minor decline in funding of about $4,000 – about 1 percent of its federation allocation -while the Wayne-based agency saw an increase of around $70,000 – 20 percent.

The federation helped these and its other affiliated agencies adapt to the new process.

“We met with all of the agencies at the beginning of the year to let them know we were changing to this new model and to let them know what to expect. We wanted to make the process as easy and painless as possible,” Gallatin said.

The agencies rose to the challenge. “The proposals submitted by the agencies were excellent,” she said. “They were well-written, good proposals.”

In the end, many proposals were funded only partially: The number of good proposals, which met the committee’s criteria for helping the community, exceeded the pool of money available to be allocated.

The many small grants highlight the ways that though there is much that the organization’s activists would like to support, their ability to do so is constrained by their funding.

“There are good proposals out there we were not able to fund because of our limited dollars,” Gallatin said. “The more money we can bring in, the more programs we can fund.”

For example, the federation allocated $2,500 to the Tomchei Shabbos program, which provides fresh food to needy families. That is just 1 percent of Tomchei’s annual expenses, according to its 2010 tax records.

In evaluating the proposals, “there were uniform criteria and guidelines we had to follow to keep everyone on a level playing field. Every proposal we received was put up against the same score sheet, which had the criteria we were looking for and hoping the proposal contained.”

Asked to single out some of her favorite programs among those the federation funded, Gallatin mentioned “several special needs programs,” a series of grants given to programs at Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake and Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge; the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies; the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, and the Sinai schools.

In the category of “connection to Israel” – one of the federation’s three programmatic priorities – “we’re giving a substantial amount of money to Rutgers Hillel for their Israel advocacy program so we can help combat anti-Semitism on campus,” Gallatin said.

And in “a perfect example of the collaboration” the federation hopes to encourage among area Jewish institutions, a grant for a professional development program for Jewish educators was awarded. It had been submitted by the Moriah School on behalf of the community’s day schools.

Next year’s grant program is expected to include twice as much of the federation’s allocations as this year’s did. (The goal is to hit 100 percent of all allocations in the next few years.) Gallatin had some advice for organizations looking to apply for funding.

“I would continue to stress collaboration,” she said. “That is one of our key criteria for reviewing these proposals. Make the programs compelling – that’s pretty easy to do because most of the programs in our community are compelling.” It also would be useful to show how the federation funds will help the organization leverage other sources of funding.

“And demonstrate the impact,” Gallatin said. “We want to fund impactful programs.”

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