Cover Story: All for One
In the late 1980s, United Jewish Communities/The Jewish Federations of North America had more than 800,000 donors. By 2009, that number had dwindled to fewer than 500,000. A steady, 20-year decline in donor numbers is a sure indication that something is wrong — something much deeper and long-term than the down economy that has been decimating donor bases across the nonprofit sector since last year.
UJC/The Jewish Federations of North America, an umbrella organization that represents 157 local Jewish federations and 400 independent communities across North America, is focused on strengthening the Jewish community worldwide by protecting and enhancing the well-being of Jews through core values of repairing the world, charity, social justice and learning. The umbrella organization boasts an annual budget of $30.34 million, and independent federations have collective annual revenues of $3 billion from annual campaigns, endowments and foundations that are used to fund social-service and education needs, from aiding the Jewish needy to adult education. Federation funds, which are funneled through UJC/The Jewish Federations of North America, also go toward assisting Jews in Israel and overseas.
In researching the attrition happening in its donor ranks, the organization found a key cause to be donors moving out of federations they had donated to but then not connecting with federations in their new locales. Sharing information and best practices among the federations historically happened on an ad hoc basis, at best. So, if a donor moved from one city to another and staff at that federation knew someone in the federation area the individual moved to, that person would let it know of the move. Otherwise, poof … the donor was gone.
"Sometimes they would send spreadsheets back and forth and say, 'Here are the 10 people that we found when we did our National Change of Address filter,' or, 'We were just informed by our donor that they moved; here is their information,'" says Adam Smolyar, senior vice president of strategic marketing and communications for UJC/The Jewish Federations of North America, who joined the organization about a year ago. "So they would do sharing. But when you have 157 federations and everybody is incredibly busy and focused on fundraising, obviously that's going to slip through the cracks."