November 20, 2019

Gold, Successor Sandler, on Board With Changes

When Stanley Gold became chairman of Federation two years ago, he had one main goal: to make it relevant.

So, now that he has turned over the gavel to Richard Sandler, the new chairman, has he done it?

“I think we took a big step toward relevance, but there is always unfinished business,” Gold said in December during an interview at his Burbank office at Shamrock Holdings, an investment company owned by the family of Roy Disney, where he is CEO.

Most agree that Gold gave Federation the shakeup it was looking for when it tapped a chairman who was not a Federation insider and was known as a fearless corporate player.

Gold slashed the board from 143 members to 45. He reorganized Federation into five funding areas that allocate money based on programming proposals, not on year-to-year entitlements. He started to scale back rent subsidies and eliminate other benefits, but those plans were put on hold when the recession hit.

Gold believes he ignited a needed conversation.

“We need to be willing to have self-analysis. We’re now questioning, at committee levels, everything we do, which is healthy. The problem I think in the past was we accepted things because that was the way it was always done, and that is no longer standard operating procedure for us,” Gold said.

What Gold called the “emancipation” of the agencies — revamping funding procedures and eliminating subsidies — alarmed many organizations, but Gold is confident he moved things in the right direction.

“Emancipate does not mean abandon,” Gold said. “We’re not abandoning anybody. We’re trying to make agencies healthier so they can stand on their own, which gives us an opportunity to incubate and grow other organizations that have wide appeal to other segments of our population.”

Some agencies say while they have not yet seen significant change in the dollars they receive, the reduction of subsidies for rent, payroll, insurance and benefits has been significant. Margy Feldman, director of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles, says she supports the idea of helping agencies become more robust, but communication has been lacking.

“It would have been helpful to work together in how the reduction would impact each agency; for example, some agencies might want it all in a one-month hit, where others might be better off doing it monthly,” Feldman said. “Typically there is no discussion, just the ‘hit.’”

Jewish Family Service, which rented a floor and a half at Federation headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard, is moving this month to a smaller space on Wilshire near Normandie.

“One of the things that prompted this decision was discussion within Federation about increasing the rent and reducing subsidies for agencies in the building,” said Paul Castro, CEO of Jewish Family Service, which received about $2.7 million of its $27 million budget from Federation in 2009. But, he said, “This move was a business decision. This was not a statement about our relationship with Federation.”

The move will save JFS about $1.5 million over five years. Administrative offices will be in the new, consolidated office space, while client services will continue to be offered at 16 locations around the city.

Gold said he is not worried about filling the vacancy. StandWithUs, the Israel advocacy organization, confirmed that it is moving into the Federation building, taking half a floor. And Federation’s new president, Jay Sanderson, is hoping to use some of the space as an incubation area for start-ups and small organizations.

Gold likes the notion of bringing fresh ideas into the building. During his tenure, he worked to involve young people in leadership training and says a good 40 percent of the board is now younger than 50 (young by Federation measures).

“There is a whole group of people who are not only givers to Federation, they are activists — they run committees, they have responsibilities,” Gold said.

He’s also brought in some members of the Iranian Jewish population and made inroads with Israelis.

“The Federation needs to be more open and less an exclusive club. It needs to reach out to all of the diverse elements of the community, and I’m convinced that cannot happen if both lay leaders and professional staff stay at 6505 and say, ‘Come to us,’” Gold said.

But some things were left undone, in part because focus had to shift toward handling the immediate economic crisis.

Gold said he would have liked to have spent more time reevaluating the relationship between Federation and the Jewish Community Foundation, which dispersed $65 million to local and international causes in 2008. The Foundation, with assets of $690 million, runs as a completely separate entity from Federation.

“It is not healthy that they be operated independently,” Gold said. “There is a duplication of efforts on the revenue generating side, and there is a duplication of efforts on the giving side. We need to work much closer, hand-in-glove.”

But Marvin Schotland, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation, and Lorin Fife, its chairman, said they believe the community is best served by two independent organizations.

“It’s important to have an organization that is not subject to the vicissitudes of a year-to-year campaign that come to bear on Federation, that can result in worrying about what the numbers will look like in December, rather than what the community is going to look like 10 years down the road,” Fife said.

Leaders of The Federation and Foundation sit on one another’s boards and collaborate constantly, Schotland said, a process that will only get better with Sanderson, since the Foundation has been a consistent funder of the Jewish Television Network (JTN), which Sanderson headed for 20 years before he came to Federation.

Federation’s new chairman, Richard Sandler, was also a funder of JTN through the Milken Family Foundation, where he is executive director.

Sandler grew up in an active Federation family in the Valley — his father was also a founder of Valley Beth Shalom — but he was only marginally involved with Federation until he was invited to come aboard as a partner and potential successor to Gold. Like Gold, Sandler is dedicated to making community organizations more independent, with Federation filling in gaps where necessary, playing the role of convener and serving as a central address during crises.

“I think Federation needs to be a partner in the community,” Sandler said. “It shouldn’t be looked upon as more or less important than other organizations.”

Sandler and his wife live in Brentwood and are still leaders at VBS. They have three grown children, who are also Jewish and civic activists.

Sandler says education and identity building are vital for this generation of Jews, where intermarriage rates are at about 45 percent and some studies show that families are likely to lose any sense of Jewish identity by the second generation after intermarriage.

“It’s important that if a young person is going to make a decision in their life that in effect Judaism is not important to them, that they should have an idea of what that means. They should understand, what are Jewish values? What have we contributed to the world? Why have we existed against all odds through the generations?” he said.

Sandler would like to see a fundraising model that uses a personal approach to help people understand exactly what their money is doing.

“I want to bring in new donors, significant philanthropists in the city that are Jewish that don’t give anything to Jewish causes,” he said. “I want to be able to go to them and make them understand why it would be in their interest to do so.”

And he’d like to see established lay leaders better understand their role in relation to professionals.

“I want professionals to feel empowered,” Sandler said. “If you’re going to make the most of your human capital, you have got to let them use their talents in the best way they know how. And you’ve got to assume that someone doing something every day has more knowledge about what they are doing than someone who goes to a meeting once a month or once a week.”

But, Gold warns, while the work is rewarding, Sandler should be prepared to put in a lot of hours.

“I will tell you, I’ve spent more time in two years as chairman of Federation than I did in six years as chairman of USC. That is literally true,” Gold said.