In A Tough Economic Year, Jewish Charity Hits Mark

Despite The Recession, Fundraising Equals Last Year's Total

July 01, 2009|By Matthew Hay Brown | Matthew Hay Brown,matthew.brown@baltsun.com

While philanthropies everywhere struggle to pry dollars loose from communities reeling from the recession, Baltimore's Jewish federation is celebrating what in these times qualifies as an outstanding result: simply raising as much money as it did the year before.

The annual campaign of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore hit the mark Tuesday, the last day of the fiscal year, organization officials said. The $30.8 million they raised means they will be able to fund all of the Associated's local educational, cultural and assistance programs at the same levels this year as last.

"What's at play here is provision of service," Associated President Marc B. Terrill said Tuesday. "We have to be the mouthpiece for the people that can't speak for themselves. So we went in with an attitude essentially that failure is not an option."

His organization's feat comes in a bleak environment for philanthropy both locally and nationwide. U.S. charitable giving fell 2 percent in 2008, according to a report released last month by the Giving USA Foundation. More than 80 percent of the nonprofit organizations surveyed by the Center for Civil Society Studies at the Johns Hopkins University early this year reported experiencing some level of fiscal stress, and close to 40 percent described the stress as "severe" or "very severe."

Among 157 Jewish federations in the United States and Canada, the pace of giving is off 13 percent this year, according to a spokesman for United Jewish Communities/Jewish Federations of North America. As a result, spokesman Joe Berkowfsky said, some federations are extending their annual campaigns beyond the June 30 close of the fiscal year.

Locally, the United Way of Central Maryland saw a 7 percent decline in receipts in 2008 and is anticipating "another tough year" in 2009, President Larry Walton said. The Baltimore-based chapters of Catholic Charities and Associated Black Charities did not respond to requests Tuesday for information about fundraising progress.

The Associated supports some two dozen local agencies and programs, including Jewish Community Services, Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc. (CHAI) and the Counseling, Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women (CHANA). The annual campaign, meanwhile, funds two thirds of the Associated budget. At the outset of the campaign last year, organization officials set the goal of raising the same amount as they had the year before.

The challenge facing the fundraisers: Donations are growing more difficult to solicit just as they're needed most.

"The causes are all over the front pages," said Linda A. Hurwitz, who chaired the campaign. "It's food, clothing, medicine, shelter. We see people who have been giving for years are now coming - because they know what we do - they're coming to our doors and asking for help."

Hurwitz says volunteers started early, focused on personal contact with potential donors - "doing eyeball-to-eyeball 'asks' " is what she called it - and returning to those who had given at their usual levels to request that they consider adding a "one-time gift" to help reach the goal.

Still, the Associated has not been immune to the recession.

Its budget will drop 4 percent to $43.6 million, owing to losses in income from endowments, foundation grants and the United Way. To preserve funding for local agencies, the organization has cut $600,000 from its central office, which included laying off four employees and trimming other expenses; reduced contributions to national agencies and postponed a planned community study. Additional savings are anticipated from the merger of Baltimore Hebrew University into Towson University and the consolidation of several agencies into Jewish Community Services.

Three Associated agencies will see funding increases under an allocation plan approved last week by the organization's board of directors. Jewish Community Services will get an additional $300,000 for increased emergency cash assistance, where need has ballooned from $150,000 a few years back to an anticipated $1.6 million this year. A new community partnership to address learning differences among Jewish day school students will get $100,000, and the Jewish Museum of Maryland will get $70,000 to offset decreases in endowment income and public funding.

Berkowfsky called the relative success of the Associated "unusual."

"The economic crisis has touched all walks of Jewish life: federations, community centers, synagogues, family service agencies, fundraising organizations," he said. United Jewish Communities/Jewish Federations of North America is encouraging local federations to search for efficiencies and partnerships to save money, has brought in financial experts to advise on fundraising and endowment management, and is helping to identify and track donors as they move from community to community.

"The whole philanthropic landscape is going to change, and that includes the Jewish philanthropic landscape," Berkowfsky said. "They're going to have to rethink their investment policies. They're going to have to rethink their fundraising strategies."

Terrill said he has been asked what the Associated's secret is.

"I wish that I could say that there was some magic pixie dust, but the reality is that it's the basics," he said.

"It's nurturing relationships, it's delivering what we say we're going to deliver on, and thanking people and letting them know that they're truly moving gauges that need to be moved in terms of support of the vulnerable and supporting youth and families and taking care of our seniors."

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