Toward a better Federation

I recently accepted the chairmanship of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Although I did so somewhat reluctantly, I accepted this new responsibility because I believe that without a healthy revitalized Federation, Jewish life in Los Angeles will suffer.

It is no secret that The Federation, in recent years, has struggled to attract new supporters and increase its annual contributions. Acknowledging those facts is necessary in order to correct our agenda and improve the health of the organization.

At our last board meeting, I spoke to our board members about hope, growth and involvement. I’d like to share those thoughts with the community at large.

Hope: We, at The Federation, need to reignite the flames of hope for our donors, for our beneficiaries and for those of us (both lay and professional) who work at The Federation. Rekindling hope cannot be accomplished with words, but rather with growth and greater involvement in Federation activities, especially among the young people of our community.

Growth: In order to grow this organization, we need to do several things simultaneously. We need to focus our efforts on fewer activities. The projects and programs we need to choose must not duplicate others in our community, and those we do we must do at a level of excellence. In many cases, that means doing them in partnership with other Jewish organizations that have expertise and depth in a particular area. We need to support all Jewish organizations in Los Angeles and applaud their accomplishments. They are us.

In the area of growth, it is my plan to focus The Federation’s activities on:

1) Israel and overseas activities: We have a unique advantage over other Jewish organizations in our community in this area. We can build on our successful Tel Aviv-Los Angeles Partnership and provide a meaningful Israel experience for all Jews traveling to Israel, no matter the sponsoring group.

2) Community: The Federation, representing the entire Jewish community, is best suited to begin partnerships with other ethnic and religious communities in Los Angeles, especially the Latino community, which demographically will soon be the largest community in Southern California.

3) Leadership: It is our job to identify and train future Jewish lay leaders not only for The Federation, but for all Jewish institutions in our area.

4) Education: We are nondenominational, and we ought to be inclusive. We are particularly situated to stimulate the growth of Jewish educational institutions from preschool to grammar school to high school and college-level Hillels. The demand for these services is overwhelming, and we can do this in partnership with other institutions in our community, including our synagogues.

5) Vulnerable services: The Federation has historically taken care of those in our community whom no one else cares for and we need to continue to do it in a meaningful, efficient and fair way.

The Federation needs to be seen as a place for seed capital in the nonprofit Jewish world. We need to encourage Jewish institutions of all stripes to begin, to grow, to prosper and we need to applaud their accomplishment, even if they compete with us for supporters and contributions. Competition is good, and we should not be afraid of it; it will make all of us stronger.

Involvement: In recent years our membership has receded. I believe that the reason for this is the failure to involve in a meaningful way the young people (ages 25-50) in our Federation and its activities. We ask for their money, but we have not provided them with meaningful opportunities to become involved in the activities of The Federation. I have promised myself and the board that within two years, one-half of our board will be made up of young people.

In order to achieve the strategic goals of hope, growth and involvement, we need to make three tactical changes. We need to continue, but at a more rapid pace, the emancipation of our agencies. In many cases, the agencies have become more dynamic than The Federation and we need to be less paternalistic about their activities. We need to fund projects and programs at the agencies that are consistent with our focus: Israel, community, leadership, education and vulnerable services. We need to applaud their success and see it as our success.

We also need to make changes to The Federation’s governance. A 135-person board is too large to effectively push the organization forward rapidly. Rather, we need a large assembly or congress of all Jewish organizations in the city to meet at least twice a year. The purpose of such meetings is for The Federation leadership to hear the broad macro-issues effecting our community so that we can focus our energies and attention on solving those issues; so that we can assist those with programs and projects that address the community’s priorities.

In contrast to the assembly/congress, The Federation itself needs a small board and executive committee in order to attack the day-to-day issues facing The Federation.

Finally, The Federation needs an army of campaigners to restore the prominence of our annual campaign, and we need to embrace directed giving if such giving is to one of our sponsored programs or projects. We have, in recent years, turned over the responsibilities for raising sufficient funds to The Federation staff. That trend is a mistake. It is lay leadership, with their networks of friends, family and business acquaintances, who have the responsibility to raise funds necessary to provide our programs. Under the general campaign leadership of Bettina Kurowski we have begun that process, but it requires everyone involved in The Federation to be a part of it. One cannot be involved on the distribution side unless one has made an effort on the revenue gathering side. This is not two Federations; this is one integrated Federation with lay leadership responsible to the community generally, both in fundraising and the distribution of money for services.

I believe that we can again make The Federation exciting and relevant to the Jewish community. I ask you to join with me in a new inclusive Jewish Federation; one that is especially welcoming to the young professional leaders in our lay community. If the challenge appeals to you, don’t hesitate to contact me … we’ll find a meaningful position for you. The responsibility of Jewish continuity and the Jewish future and Klal Yisrael is not a job for a small group of elite Jews, but rather a job for all of us and I hope The Federation will be your door to fulfilling that responsibility.

Stanley Gold is the recently appointed chair of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.