Philanthropy round-up: Signs of recovery

Philanthropy round-up: Signs of recovery

The following round-up was adapted from JTA’s philanthropy blog,

Camps hold steady, look to improve online presence

The Jewish camping industry experienced a huge boon over the past decade. Yet a year ago many camps had serious concerns that the growth could recede with the stumbling economy.

Jeremy Fingerman, the CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, is among those who believe that Jewish camps may have weathered the worst of the recession. Courtesy FJC

Now, however, the worst has passed – and camps by and large were able to hold steady.

At least that seemed to be the sentiment when some 500 representatives of 112 camps met March 14-15 in Jersey City for the biannual conference of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

Historically, according to FJC chairman Skip Vichness, camps have suffered greatly in economic crises. But that did not happen this go-round, he said, even though the latest recession appeared to be much deeper than some in the past.

While past recessions have seen about a 10 percent drop in enrollment in Jewish overnight camps, this time the numbers were steady: Campership grew from 43,000 11 years ago to about 70,000 in 2008, Vichness said, and the ’08 number held last summer.

Looking forward to the summer of 2010, the number should hold steady and perhaps grow, the camp foundation’s new CEO, Jeremy Fingerman, said.

“Anecdotally, in talking with the camp directors, the overall impression I had is they were pretty even with a year ago,” Fingerman said. “A number of camps already have waiting lists. Other camps are close to being filled, though I think it ranges across the country. Camps in the Southeast, Southwest, and West Coast are closer to being full. And I have a list of camps looking to do cabin expansion.”

The expansion could be helped with a new matching-grant program started by the FJC to help camps add cabins and increase capacity. Fingerman said he knows of at least a dozen camps that are ready to build new cabins.

The steadiness of camp enrollment could be attributed in part to the millions of dollars that the FJC and the Jim Joseph Foundation have invested in supplying scholarship incentives to first-time campers in 30 communities.

But in talking with those at the camps, it seems the bigger factor is that they were able to really focus over the past year. Most camps basically raise philanthropic money for two things – capital projects and scholarships. Tuition pays for the actual running of the camps.

Over the past 18 months, most camps have put on hold raising funds for capital improvements, by and large, and laser-focused on raising money for scholarships, as the camps have seen a significant spike in parents who need financial aid.

Donors have been receptive, it seems.

For instance, Camp Ramah of the Berkshires at a recent dinner raised $325,000 for scholarships – its most ever, according to development director Amy Glazer. It did so by focusing more on midrange donors of $300 to $1,200 rather than large donors.

Herrell Wittenstein, the director of camp services for B’nai B’rith International, said his organization was able to bring in $100,000 for scholarships for the several camps it runs – about $40,000 more than in the past.

Fingerman, a branding wizard at Campbell’s Soup and Manischewitz before moving to the FJC this winter, has his own theory: He says much of the stability in camps has to do with the strength of the Jewish camp brand and the trust that parents have in it.

“Trust today is expressed parent to parent, family to family, camper to friend,” he said. “It is that word of mouth that is critical. So a positive experience is worth a tremendous amount. If you don’t have a good experience, [you won’t pass it on].”

Still, much of the conference focused on how Jewish camps can move beyond simple word of mouth in terms of passing on and marketing that brand. The conference’s keynote speaker was a brand wizard, and several sessions focused on social media and branding.

Fingerman says camps have significant strides to make, especially in the realm of online marketing.

“If you look at the online presence of the camps that we support and try to help and assist, while there is a range of capability we are not marketing to today’s consumers and parents and kids in a way that is as effective as should be,” he said. “If you look at some of the private [non-Jewish] camp Websites, your jaw drops. I look at these Websites and I say, sign me up, I want to go to camp. They are great camps, but they are missing the Jewish neshama we try to support.

“You look at those Websites [of the Jewish camps], and look at how they are, they are static, not fresh. They are not active in communicating the strength of the brand.”


Taking the pulse of Reform development directors

Last year was a difficult one for Reform synagogues, but the development directors at some of the country’s congregations appear to be feeling optimistic and are looking toward recovery, according to several who took part in a conference last week in New York.

Reform Synagogue Development Professionals is not a large group, with only about 25 development directors from the estimated 900 Reform congregations. But the 25 represent a pretty decent cross-section of the field.

Just after their March 17 meeting (the group has been gathering annually since 2003), four of the participants – Patsy Goodman of Temple Emanuel in Dallas; Robyn Cimbol of Temple Emanuel in Manhattan; Jann Blitz of Temple Emanuel in Birmingham, Ala.; and Maxine Lowy of Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore – discussed the state of their fund-raising efforts.

They each described 2008-09 as a year in which they had to lower expectations for their annual appeals and cut expenses, and one in which their congregations enacted program cuts, salary freezes, and minor layoffs.

New York’s 3,000-member Temple Emanuel, for instance, reduced its annual appeal goal from $1.5 million in 2008-09 to $1.2 million in 2009-10 and saw a significant drop in its endowment. Oheb Shalom cut its goal from $275,000 last year to $250,000 this year.

Meanwhile, last year marked the first time that Temple Emanuel in Dallas did not reach its fund-raising goal, falling about $50,000 short of the $725,000 standard it had set.

At this time last year, each fund-raiser said, they had been bracing for the worst. Already they were grappling with membership attrition resulting from the deaths of older congregants. And with membership costs ranging from about $1,100 for an individual to upward of $2,200 for a family, synagogues were fearing that younger members would start to jump ship. But the worst never came, the development directors said.

Temple Emanuel in New York “never saw the huge exodus from our synagogues we had anticipated,” Cimbol said. “Especially with high unemployment in financial sectors, we anticipated that people would move out of the city or would spend diminished or no dues on synagogues. But we have not seen this in the Reform synagogues in New York.”

Each of the four directors has seen members cut back. Many who had held onto extra seats for the High Holidays that belonged to either deceased relatives or grown children who moved away have given them up. And synagogues have had to reduce membership fees for many in financial distress. But other members stepped up to help fill the gaps, the directors said.

All four said they expect to meet or surpass their fund-raising goals for this year, and they were able to take the last year to plan long term, trying to turn the recession into an opportunity to streamline and look forward with endowments and renewed efforts to cull legacy gifts.

In New York, Temple Emanuel started a campaign to raise $2 million for its endowment – and met the goal.

“While we were distressed by the hit to our endowment, it was not as bad as we feared it would be,” Cimbol said. “But the foundation board looked at the entire process as long term. We did not lose it all. We chose to look at it as a long-term process.”

Birmingham’s Temple Emanuel used the recession to make the case to its donors that an endowment was necessary, said Blitz, who is also the chairwoman of the Reform development directors’ group.

“We used the year for rebuilding and strategic planning,” she said. “We launched a fund-raising effort to build endowment for the future. Our annual dues from our 700 families were stable, but the endowment effort involved greater participation. We significantly grew our participation by 20 to 25 percent.”

But the key, the directors said, was that the synagogues did not panic and did not act rashly. They cut when necessary and tried to minimize the impact for their members. And most important, they looked at the situation as an opportunity to foster the relationships they have with their congregants. By being there for them now, even when the donors may be in distress, the fund-raisers think they will make long-term gains once the economy fully recovers.

“We feel very optimistic because we have weathered the storm and with the least amount of disruption to congregants,” Lowy of Oheb Shalom said. “Their synagogues are still there for them. We are still giving pastoral support. We are still there for them. We have nurtured and supported our relationships. And we will be better positioned over the next few years to go after big gifts with confidence because we know it is a good relationship.”

Despite reducing its appeal goal from $275,000 to $250,000, Oheb Shalom already is at $300,000 with a significant chunk of the year to go.


What we know about the Joshua Venture finalists

In April, the Joshua Venture Group will announce its new batch of eight fellows – each of whom will receive some $80,000 in funding and tens of thousands more in professional development and mentoring service to help build innovative Jewish start-ups.

The group received 131 applications this winter and has narrowed its search to 18 finalists. But this week, JV was to release the results of a study that it conducted into who exactly were its applicants.

The Fundermentalist got a sneak peak at the results, and they may buck some of what we thought we knew about the field of Jewish entrepreneurship.

Some of the more interesting findings:

“¢ When the Joshua Venture was in its initial incarnation early last decade, no one older than 39 could apply, but the group has dropped the age restriction. Of the 131 applicants, a quarter were aged 26 to 30. More than 20 percent were 31 to 36, and slightly less than 20 percent were 36 to 40. About a quarter were over 40. It has been a commonly held notion within the Jewish community that young people won’t join the Jewish establishment, so the best approach is to let them come up with their own ideas about how to engage their peers and then help them build those programs. Well, it seems that Jewish social entrepreneurship is not necessarily the sole domain of the Next Gen. “Our numbers show that innovation occurs at all levels,” said Lisa Lepson, the JV Group’s CEO. Some of the disparity, Lepson said, may have to do with the fact that while some people have ideas in their 20s about what they might like to do with a Jewish project, the proposals may not be fully developed until the innovators are in their 30s.

“¢ A third of the 18 finalists already had participated in other Jewish incubator programs, such as Bikkurim, Jumpstart, Upstart, or PresenTense. Lepson sees this as a possible sign of the emergence of a stage-by-stage process for building better projects. “One of the big differences from when JV was first launched and now is that there seems to be a progression of the field that is really exciting. We can see it is clear how things progress through various funding and staging,” she said. “We see these organizations as a possible pipeline, and that has happened.”

While the thinking in the Jewish world has been that social ventures should be run as not-for-profit organizations, Joshua Venture opened up its application to nontraditional ventures as well, such as for-profit organizations and organizations embedded within other organizations. In the end, most of the applicants were non-profits or applying for not-for-profit status – but a higher proportion of the for-profits actually qualified as finalists. According to the JV report, the for-profit models had better business plans.

“¢ Forty-one percent of applicants pitched education projects. Here’s how other categories fared: art projects (21 percent), social justice (15 percent), leadership (13 percent), and media projects (2 percent). It’s important to note that applicants were allowed to identify their projects under two categories. Many who opted for art, social justice, or other categories also identified their projects as educational. According to Lepson, perhaps most interesting was that so many of the projects involved community-building.


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