JTA’s “Reimagining Federated Philanthropy”– What You Need to Know

Credited PhillipFivelNessen JTA

The JTA’s “Reimagining Federated Philanthropy” is a must read for those interested and invested in the Jewish community. That being said, I know we all don’t have the time or energy to sit down and read 15 pages with a fine tooth comb, so I am here to bring you the highlights.

What It Is

“Reimagining Jewish Philanthropy” is a report on Jewish philanthropy released yesterday by the Jewish Telegraph Agency, the leading online newspaper of the Jewish world.

The report’s release anticipates the United Jewish Communities’ General Assembly next week, in which 5,000 Jewish leaders will meet in Nashville to discuss issues central to the Jewish world.

The report is essentially a conversation between five powerhouses in the Jewish philanthropic world. In a call and response style, they address key issues in Jewish philanthropic giving that are of the utmost importance to today’s giving paradigm.

The report can be read online or downloaded at the link above.

The Participants and Their Issues

  • Gidi Grinstein: “Transforming Philanthropy in Israel”
  • Gary Tobin: “Jewish Federations Matter, But They Need to Adapt”
  • Howard Rieger and Joseph Kanfer: “UJC Realigning Itself to Remain Central Address in Challenging Times”
  • Sharna Goldseker: “Engaging Young Philanthropists”
  • Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter: “Individualism Challenges Community”

What You Will Find in this Entry

I have organized this entry as a Cliff’s Notes version of the original report. While long for a blog entry, it is much shorter than the original report.

I have reorganized the order of the articles starting with the authors whose views on Jewish giving I find most pressing and relevant to this blog. Gidi Grinstein’s article closely aligns with how I see Jewish philanthropy in relation to Israel today, moving on to Tobin, Rieger, and Kanfer, who speak about the role of the federation system, to Goldseker’s article on engaging the next generation, and finally to Rabbi Schacter who speaks on the culture of American Judaism.

I intend for you to read this entry in two ways:

  1. Scan to the articles or issues of highest interest to you to determine if you want to read the article themselves or learn about the ideas presented further
  2. Print out the whole post to get a highlighted version of the picture of Jewish giving in the world today

Gidi Grinstein: Transforming Jewish Philanthropy’s Impact on Israeli Society


Who: Gidi Grinstein is the founder and President of the Reut Institute, where he blogs on Jewish philanthropy and Israel.

Pivotal Point: “Excellence in Israel historically has been driven primarily by the academia, the high-tech sector and by elite parts of the defense establishment. Jewish philanthropists can transform the nonprofit sector into an additional engine of growth.”

Key Points:

  • Jewish Philanthropy and Israel– “As a Jew, I view philanthropy as a critical tool of connecting the Jewish Diaspora with Israel and a key ingredient in the blood that flows in the veins of global Jewish peoplehood.”
  • Four major trends marginalizing Jewish philanthropy in Israel:
    • 1. Decreasing ability of the Israeli government to meet the needs of its people, stretching philanthropic giving beyond capacity
    • 2. Rapid growth of the Israeli economy diminishing the impact of Jewish philanthropy overall
    • 3. Jewish philanthropists are disconnected from the socioeconomic realities of Israel
    • 4. Recent rise of Israeli philanthropists addressing local needs
  • Jewish Philanthropy’s Role– “Jewish philanthropy is in an excellent position to impact and lead the four rising sectors of Israeli society: the business class, philanthropists, local government, and nonprofits… The real challenge is to leverage much greater impact on Israeli society with the same dollars”
  • TOP 15 Vision– Israel wants to be among the top 15 countries in the developed world in terms of quality of life in the next 15 years. Doing so requires excellence in private and public spheres. Jewish philanthropy can help Israel accomplish this goal through “massive investment in infrastructure, education, and human capital”
  • Reprioritizing Jewish Philanthopy– Added focus on incentivizing the growth of small nonprofits for the sake of Jewish communal innovation
  • High Impact Jewish Philanthropy– Go where the government can’t in terms of supporting Israel in the nonprofit sector in order to fulfill the TOP 15 Vision. Promoting leadership among Israeli nonprofits so that they will play a central role in Jewish philanthropies

Gary Tobin: Why Jewish Federations Need to Adapt


Who: Gary Tobin is President of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research. He is the destination for research on the Jewish people and trends in the Jewish world. I have quoted him often, as you will see in the links at the bottom of this article.

Pivotal Point: “While federations have evolved significantly in recent years, the change is not happening comprehensively or quickly enough for them to be the powerhouses in Jewish philanthropy they would like to be or have been in the past.”

Key Points:

  • Endowments– What is the role of endowments for Jewish federations? The majority of endowment dollars are going to non-Jewish causes. How does this affect the role of Jewish federations as Jewish community organizations?
  • Federation’s Allocation System– Who is in charge of federations’ allocation systems? How can new ways of allocating funds be developed? “Does the constituent/beneficiary agency structure make sense anymore?”
  • Annual Campaigns– Millions of dollars are donated annually, but in real terms of the dollar’s value, donations have plummeted since 1967. How can federations re-envision the annual campaign to reach out to donors to “radically change the standards of giving”?
  • Administration– The federation system needs a shot in the arm when it comes to image and branding. What does it need to do to get back in the game and give itself a central role in the Jewish giving game?

Note: Tobin’s article is based on a style of questions to think about for federation restructuring. This is reflected in the notes above.

Joseph Kanfer and Howard Rieger: Why Federations are the Heart of the American Jewish Community

RiegerKanfer JTA

Who: Howard Rieger is the President and CEO of the United Jewish Communities (UJC).

Joseph Kanfer is the Chair of its Board of Trustees. (Photo: Rieger, Kanfer, respectively.)

Pivotal Point: “We are working to identify and nurture the big ideas that will inspire us, and re-energize our collective in order to build our community in the future. That is, at heart, what the UJC/Federation does best: we create and build community. We spark the imagination of our collective, we act as one people, with one destiny, using our central address to meet Jewish needs and re-imagine our Jewish future, from one generation to the next.”

Key Points:

  • Role in Jewish Giving– 155 large federations and 400 smaller affiliates raise $900 million annually to support Jewish causes (the UJC possesses an endowment of $13 billion)
  • Power as an Emergency Fundraiser– UJC donated $28.5 to Hurricane Katrina relief efforts; $360 million for Israel recovery after the Second Lebanon War; and $70 million in Operation Promise to rescue and absorb Jews from Ethiopia
  • Networking Organization– “Our collective isn’t only about writing checks; our donors remain full partners in the global agenda,” 5,000 people attended last year’s General Assembly; 16,000 women are Lions of Judah, making a minimum $5,000 annual contribution
  • New Priorities of Young Donors– Central issues that motivated previous generations are no longer urgent on the agenda (Holocaust, founding of State of Israel, Six Day War, rescuing Soviet Jewry). Jewish organizations are facing a shrinking donor base, along the fact that younger philanthropists want a more hands-on role in giving. There is also more mobility among young donors, who are not tied to a single community
  • Response: Strategic Campaign– The UJC is engaging in a nationwide (American) campaign based around three constituencies:
    • 1. Community Capacity and Consultation
    • 2. Global Operations/ Israel & Overseas
    • 3. Jewish Peoplehood and Identity
    • As well as the founding of a Center for Jewish Philanthropy and Federation Peer Yardstick to promote evaluation among Jewish community organizations
  • Promoting Young Leadership– $12 million donated to Birthright, supporting participation in the Next Generation Leaders Project with the TelAvivOne Initiative, hosting annual National Young Leadership Conference

Sharna Goldseker: The Role of the Next Generation in Jewish Continuity


Who: Sharna Goldseker is the Vice President of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and Director of the 21/64 Division. She is also the Director of Grand Street, an organization that helps 18-28 year olds in family foundations develop leadership skills.

Pivotal Point: “Although multigenerational philanthropy requires us to hold the tension between our traditions and the innovation of our next generations, it seems well worth it to achieve continuity. Are we up to the challenge?”

Key Points:

  • Young Leadership– Engaging and teaching the next generation of leadership is crucial to Jewish continuity
  • Four generations of Jewish leadership:
    • 1. Traditionalists: born from 1925- 1945, “world views were imprinted by World War II, the Depression, and the Holocaust… have built many of the institutions that are pillars of our communities”
    • 2. Baby Boomers: born from 1945- 1964, world views formed by Israel’s founding, the advent of television, suburbanization, social movements of the 1960s
    • 3 & 4. Current–Generations X and Y: born 1965- 1980 and 1981- 1999, heavily influenced by technological innovations, “grown up with access to opportunities across race, religion, class, sexual orientation, and even global boundaries that previous generations did not have,” the upcoming generation of Jewish communal leadership
  • The Lens of the Upcoming Generation– “The experiences these 20- and 30-somethings bring, the vocabulary and skills they draw on, the questions they pose, all require a shift in the way our federations operate. Are we willing to adapt how we operate for the sake of who we want to engage?”
  • Integrating Young Leadership– Training and cultivating the coming generation for future leadership roles in the Jewish community ensures healthy Jewish continuity. To do this effectively, the values of Jewish philanthropy must be synthesized with the priorities of the younger generation.

Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter: On Personal Judaism and Redefining the Jewish Self


Who: Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter is the 2007 General Assembly’s Scholar in Residence. He is a professor at the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University.

Pivotal Point: “The principal authority for contemporary American Jews, in the absence of compelling religious norms and communal loyalties, has become the sovereign self.”

Key Points:

  • Personal Judaism– American Jews are constantly defining their personal Judaism in terms of ritual observance, Jewish institutions, and their relationship to the Jewish community
  • Role of the UJC– The UJC’s role is still central in our Jewish volunteerism, giving, and engagement


Title image sourced from the original report, created by Phillip Fivel Nessen, along with Rieger/Kanfer graphic. All other photographs sourced from authors’ respective organizations. With thanks.


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4 Responses to JTA’s “Reimagining Federated Philanthropy”– What You Need to Know

  1. […] “JTA’s ‘Reimagining Federated Philanthropy’– What You Need to Know&#82… […]

  2. […] more about Sharna Goldseker: “JTA’s Reimagining Federated Philanthropy: What You Need to Know” and The Slingshot […]

  3. […] JTA’s special on Jewish philanthropy featuring Howard Rieger and Joseph Kanfer, heads of the UJC […]

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