UJA-NNJ Women’s Division becomes Women’s Philanthropy

UJA-NNJ Women’s Division becomes Women’s Philanthropy

The federation world is no stranger to name changes.

In 2009, for example, United Jewish Communities – created in 1999 by the merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, United Israel Appeal, and United Jewish Appeal -changed its name to the Jewish Federations of North America.

Closer to home, the Women’s Division of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey has followed the model set by its umbrella organization, National Women’s Philanthropy (a name adopted in 2002), and changed its own name to Women’s Philanthropy.

The name change “is much more than just semantics,” said Women’s Philanthropy Director Jodi Heimler.

In addition to “branding” the local group with the name being used by many of the 69 federation women’s groups throughout the country, the change reflects the growing orientation of its members.

“We felt that ‘Women’s Philanthropy’ is more self-explanatory than ‘Women’s Division,'” said the group’s co-president, Stephanie Goldman-Pittel.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “There’s amazing programming already going on. There’s no place for territoriality.”

Jodi Heimler, left, Stephanie Goldman-Pittel, and Gale Bindelglass

“‘Women’s Division’ didn’t say who we are,” agreed Gale S. Bindelglass, who, with Goldman-Pittel heads the UJA-NNJ women’s arm. “‘Philanthropy’ means love of humankind, and that is what women believe in. It’s not just monetary gifts but the gift of time and caring about volunteerism.”

The proposal to change the name of the local group came before the Women’s Division board in 2009, said Heimler, who added that it was approved unanimously. The new title was adopted in July 2010.

“There was a lot of discussion,” she said. “In the beginning, it was felt by some that the new name implied you’d have to be a big giver.”

But after hearing from members of the national women’s board, they came to understand the reason behind the change.

“They told us the meaning of the word ‘philanthropy’ and the Greek root meaning love of mankind,” Heimler said. “They also gave the board comfort by talking about the transition in their own communities.”

Heimler said that Women’s Philanthropy “is so much more than the ladies who lunch,” a term that has increasingly gone out of favor.

“We bristle at that thought,” said Goldman-Pittel. “It’s been so long since that has been a reality. We basically want to encompass all women in the community in what we do. We realize that we’re different groups of women in levels of observance, age, geography, wealth – but we share the commonality of wanting to help others.”

“Our mission is twofold,” said Bindelglass. “Inspired by the ideas of tzedakah and tikkun olam, we try to support the annual campaign through fund-raising, but we also want to build a stronger Jewish community by engaging women in the mission of supporting the community, Israel, and [Jewish communities] in 60 countries around the world.”

Goldman-Pittel said the group wants women in the community to understand “that we’re not just putting our hand out and asking for their money. We’re asking them to be involved.”

“It’s a subtle shift,” said Heimler, adding that Women’s Philanthropy can offer participants a “menu” of volunteer activities. “But once they put in their big toe, they’ll understand the mission. It’s not just about the money but about improving the world.”

Women are no strangers to giving, she said, noting that some 3,000 women donated to last year’s campaign in their own names, constituting 41 percent of the total donors and providing 24 percent of the monies pledged.

“Women give from the heart,” said Bindelglass. “With the economic downturn, they sense the greater need. They’re particularly sensitive.”

Goldman-Pittel pointed out that the growth in women’s philanthropy is part of a national trend. “Women are the fastest-growing philanthropic group in the country,” she said, citing last year’s study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.

The study found that, at every income level, households headed by women are more likely to donate to charity than those headed by men.

Recognizing the growing role of women in this area, Women’s Philanthropy not only encourages women to donate but allows them to weigh in on how the contributions will be used.

“We trying to educate them,” said Heimler. For example, in making solicitation calls on Super Sunday, “we tell wives that we’d love to have them stand up and make a gift in their own names. ‘You wouldn’t let your husband vote for you,’ we say.”

In addition to generating additional monies, getting donations from both husbands and wives increases the visibility of the Jewish community, she said, pointing out “that our representatives in Washington count the number of donors to the federation’s annual campaign as a touchstone of how many Jews are involved. There’s strength in numbers.”

“We’re trying to get more women into the fold,” Heimler said. “This started years before the name change.” She noted, for example, that the invitation to the May 2009 spring luncheon included a check-off list of volunteer opportunities.

Another important development has been the emphasis on inter-agency cooperation, she said.

“When volunteers deliver kosher meals on wheels, they learn that the meals are cooked at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh and that the program is coordinated by Jewish Family Service,” she said. “They learn the [connection] between the various agencies.”

And, said Bindelglass, who also serves on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council, there is now a greater effort to publicize JCRC events among other federation groups.

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