Making Do with More

Was the United Jewish Fund 1998 campaign up, down or flat? It depends on how you interpret the numbers.

Strictly speaking, the campaign, which the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles oversees, finished on Jan. 8 with an increase in pledges — $42.2 million, compared with last year’s total of about $40.5 million — according to Federation Executive Vice President John Fishel. Add the $1.2 million raised for “America Salutes Israel,” the TV special that celebrated the Jewish state’s first half century, and the $4 million pledged to construct a new gym at the Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance’s Milken campus, and the grand total comes to close to $47.4 million.

Despite the sizable increase in donation dollars, the amount that the Federation’s Planning and Allocations Department can disperse to the Federation’s beneficiary agencies is not to exceed what P&A doled out last year.

How can this be? Fishel offers an explanation: “The reality is that even though it’s a great deal of money, a significant portion…is for specific activities, programs or projects. That’s a good thing, but it’s a good thing only in so far as we have sufficient support in the UJF for general allocations.”

Given the rising needs and costs and the Federation’s balanced-budget policy, “there isn’t a significant source of new dollars available for allocations in 1999,” Fishel said.

One reason for this is the steady growth of directed gifts — those donations that are designated for specific programs. In 1998, nearly $2 million in campaign pledges came in the form of directed gifts, more than double what it was two years earlier.

In an address to the Federation board of directors earlier this month, Fishel said that such gifts are becoming “more problematic” in terms of their impact on local allocations. “We try to accept those gifts in areas that we feel there is a communal priority,” he said later. Among the favored categories for directed gifts are the Israel Experience, which sends teens and college-age adults to Israel; hunger relief; and young-adult programs.

If direct giving continues to increase, Fishel said, the hope is that it won’t have a negative impact on the overall campaign. “Otherwise, our ability to support this range of community services will be impacted.” The bottom line, he added, is that the P&A committee and the board can only budget non-designated gifts, those that go into the overall community distribution pool.

In general, the allocation to local and overseas agencies has remained about the same, according to the P&A report. Local agencies, such as Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, the Bureau of Jewish Education and Jewish Vocational Service, will receive about $12.5 million. Overseas agencies will claim $11.9 million, of which $11.2 goes to the United Jewish Appeal. Of the estimated $39.2 million that the Federation expects to collect in pledges, building expenses, computers, administration, communications and other fund-raising expenditures account for at least $7 million.

The Federation has tried to cut back some expenses — where it makes sense — Fishel said. That includes phasing out its involvement in the Project Renewal Community in Jaffa, Israel, which it has helped support for more than 10 years, and spending less on its immigrant resettlement program, since the numbers of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Iran have diminished significantly in the past few years. To save additional money, some jobs have been left vacant after staffers leave, Fishel said.

Even while the books are closing on last year’s campaign, the 1999 campaign is in full swing, with Super Sunday, the largest single fund-raising day of the year, only weeks away on Feb. 21.