Helping the federation save big bucks for synagogues

Helping the federation save big bucks for synagogues

Meet Matt Holland

As an engineer for Black and Decker, Matt Holland held 19 patents.

“The plaques hang proudly in my basement,” said the Highland Park resident, now community purchasing manager for the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Kehillah Partnership Initiative.

Holland is the man responsible for negotiating savings for the JFNNJ catchment area’s nearly 160 eligible groups – including synagogues, day schools, affiliated agencies, and community centers. He says his technical knowledge has come in handy.

Matt Holland

For example, when he tells a synagogue board member how the shul can save money on an electric bill, “I can go through the fine print on a PSE&G bill and make the average congregant understand it.”

Born and raised in Baltimore, Holland studied mechanical engineering at Philadelphia’s Drexel University before taking a job at Black and Decker, where he worked for eight years. After five years as a developmental engineer, “It soon became clear to those around me that I had a talent for negotiation.

“I moved into the purchasing world,” he said. “My personality was different from that of the standard engineer. When I went to China – and all over the world – as an engineer, the people I traveled with realized that my personality was suited for negotiation and vendor development.”

Holland met his wife, Shelley, in college. Living in Baltimore while working at Black and Decker, the couple decided to move to Highland Park – a place they knew well from previous visits and where they have lived for the past six years.

Leaving Black and Decker, he got a job as the “purchasing person” at Echo Unlimited.

“It entailed indirect spending – back-office stuff that people take for granted,” he said, adding that he was able to streamline purchasing for the company, putting the process online. Subsequently, he was asked to manage the facility.

When the economy began its downward trend, Echo – as did so many businesses – felt the negative effects. “We were closing facilities, retail and distribution centers, and putting a freeze on spending,” he said. “I could see the writing on the wall.”

As he began to look for other employment, he did some “soul-searching,” resolving to “look outside the box.” Fortunately, he said, Robin Greenfield, JFNNJ’s chief financial officer, saw his resume.

The federation “had been looking to do group purchasing for years,” he said. “They realized that they needed someone to do it on a day-to-day basis, to have somebody living and breathing it every day.”

With his background, he said, “It was a great fit.” As an observant Jew, he welcomed the opportunity to work for a Jewish organization.

One of the first cost-savings areas he investigated was utilities, looking to leverage volume purchases to save the community money on electricity and gas.

“I love math,” he said. “I get excited about crunching numbers on a big spreadsheet. It’s nice to help organizations understand how they could save money. I can talk technically to people who aren’t technical.”

Holland said his “big passion” is running, although, with three young children – Jonas, 5, Nina, 3, and Bella, 6 months – he does not have as much time to do this as he used to.

“I also love landscaping,” he said, noting that he not only mows his own lawn, but knows a good deal about hedges, bushes, and other plants. In addition, he said, “I’m a huge Baltimore sports fan.”

More than just launching initiatives

Holland said he is gratified that there are now close to 100 community organizations participating in his joint purchasing initiatives.

“There were 16 when I started,” he said, adding that he has so far rolled out nine initiatives: electricity, natural gas, shipping, credit card processing, office supplies, telephone service (voice and data), janitorial supplies, waste removal, and financing.

To date, said Holland, participating groups have saved a combined $1.2 million.

“We have shown that working together can truly impact our bottom lines, as well as create leverage when negotiating with vendors,” he said, suggesting that the program has spread primarily by “creating successes people can look at.”

Joining the program is simple, he said. “All organizations have to do is call or e-mail me and I’ll walk them through our offerings and explain the process to move forward. They just have to supply me with their invoices so I can do a savings analysis. There’s no fee to participate. It’s really a no-brainer.”

“This is how the federation can bring people together,” he said. “It’s about forming relationships. That’s what it’s all about.”

New initiatives this year will include maintenance services and solar power.

School savings seen

“Yeshiva University and the Jewish Education for Future Generations are currently looking at areas that would lower costs among our day schools in northern New Jersey, and maintenance services is one of these areas,” he said. “A few schools have already implemented this and are realizing significant savings.”

For solar power, he said, “I am working behind the scenes with about seven institutions.” If enough organizations participate, combining their kilowatt usage in aggregate, “Solar companies may be willing not only to offer competitive rates but to cover the cost of new roofs for these institutions.” Not only will utility bills be less than what these groups are currently paying, “but they’ll be going green and getting a free roof while saving additional dollars.”

In addition to initiating joint purchasing ventures, Holland has also become a “purchasing sounding board,” advising Jewish organizations on buying items such as new copiers and resolving ongoing vendor issues.

“It’s more than just rolling out initiatives,” he said. “People are looking at their expenses more closely.”

For example, he said, one big synagogue that is doing construction realized that it was being charged for a meter that is not active. Holland worked with all the parties involved, helping the synagogue get a $17,000 refund from PSE&G.

The next community meeting to discuss cost-savings opportunities will be held Dec. 16, 9 a.m., at the JFNNJ office. For more information, call Holland at (201) 820-3932 or e-mail

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