|A new JEWISHcolorado|
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FIRST things first: The Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado no longer exists.
Nor does its partner, the Jewish Community Foundation.
The federation and the foundation are history — at least in terms of their names and to some degree their methodologies — but the work they do in the community remains very much in the present day.
In place of these two institutions that have been integral parts of Colorado Jewry is one that aspires to carry on their work in new, improved, more relevant ways — JEWISHcolorado.
“We have said,” quipped Doug Seserman, JEWISHcolorado’s president/CEO, “in a loving way, that we have dropped the F-word, whether the F-word is federation or foundation. We’re just trying to be JEWISHcolorado, with both aspects of that living in us.”
In a recent interview with the Intermountain Jewish News, Seserman joined up with JEWISHcolorado Co-chairs Nancy Gart and Ruth Malman (formerly coordinating council chair of the Allied Jewish Federation and chair of the Jewish Community Foundation, respectively) in discussing the new name and restructuring that were implemented last fall.
Where there were once two 501-C3 non-profit institutions, there is now one.
Where the federation (the institution that ran the community’s annual campaign and allocated funds according to community needs) and the foundation (a donor-directed body funded by the community’s endowment fund) were once separate, albeit closely linked, they are now one.
While the name and structure have changed, the work that these erstwhile separate institutions have long done remains vital.
The Colorado Jewish community still needs someone to “secure, steward and share” its charitable and human resources; to mobilize in times of need; to engage the next generation in being Jewish; to care for the vulnerable members of the community; to support Israel and advocate for the Jewish world.
All these needs and more, Seserman says, will continue to be met by JEWISHcolorado.
But not quite in the same ways as before.
Improving efficiency and clarity
TAKING a fairly complex formula and reducing it to simple language, he provides an explanation of why the changes have become necessary.
“Typically the federation is the umbrella organization that has an annual campaign and uses that to distribute dollars locally and globally,” says Seserman, adding that JEWISHcolorado will continue working within that basic game plan and will continue its participation in the national Jewish federation movement as a member of Jewish Federations of North America.
The former Jewish Community Foundation, Malman says — and its current component as part of JEWISHcolorado — exists “to secure funds for the future with an endowment as a long-term asset.”
Says Seserman: “Many federations have a foundation inside of them. In Jewish communities around the country, about half the federations have a foundation integrated and about half are separated.”
In Colorado’s case, the Jewish Community Foundation, whose funds constitute a communal endowment fund of some $50 million, was integrated into the Allied Jewish Federation.
“The foundation, in its purest sense, would have the corpus that came from something, whether it’s a private family foundation or a community foundation. They use that corpus to do grant-making and fund their operations. Our corpus was never significant enough to make grants, nor even fund our operations, so the federation was relied upon to fund the endowment piece.
“But inside of our $50 million in the foundation we have donor-advised funds, restricted program endowments, custodial accounts for agencies and synagogues. There’s a lot of work in the foundation that is really important in the community.
“This community needs a strong Jewish community foundation, in addition to Rose Community Foundation, and it never really had one.”
Tying both federation and foundation into a streamlined new institution — JEWISHcolorado — will not only improve efficiency and clarity for both organizations but hopefully open the door to funds that can support those causes the federation has long supported as well as enhance the endowment.
The old federation campaign canvassed more than 5,000 donors annually, while the old foundation had around 130 donor-advised funds. While a “small subset” of campaign supporters were also active in the foundation, most of them — including many major givers — were not.
JEWISHcolorado, Seserman hopes, can help the federation serve as a “sales channel” for the foundation by encouraging supporters of ongoing community needs to jump on the bandwagon for the long-term needs covered by the foundation.
“We would like to have those conversations,” he says.
Changing landscape of giving
THE advent of JEWISHcolorado also has a lot to do with recent evolutions in the philanthropic environment.
“Umbrella giving,” for example, is not as popular as it once was. This is a traditional fundraising model, in which donors are approached for a one-time gift from a central fundraising body (such as the federation or United Way), which then decides where to disburse those funds.
“From a competitive standpoint, the landscape is really changing if you look at the development professionals,” Seserman says.
“There was a time when volunteer leaders raised most of the money in the community. The organizations were supported by a handful of professionals. Today you have well compensated, six-figure development professionals all over the place. You have six-figure development professionals in many of the institutions. The fundraising professionals in the community probably outnumber the federation professionals three to one.”
These development professional don’t only compete with federations, they compete with each other, he adds.
“So it’s just a very competitive fundraising environment and it’s confusing for donors. Donors want to be supportive but they don’t understand why they’re giving to you to give to all these organizations when all these organizations are also soliciting them directly.”
At the same time, donors increasingly want a more direct say in how their charitable dollars are spent.
Nancy Gart says that while many older donors remain satisfied with the old umbrella solicitation method, younger ones are growing more comfortable with the multiple solicitation model.
“Younger donors and bigger donors tend to want to be able to control their philanthropy and manage it in a way that they can relate to,” Seserman says. “They don’t want to give to a black box that then does something else with their dollars.
“For both federations and United Ways, their bread and butter is what we call the unrestricted gift. You give to a pot, that pot gets leveraged. It’s a very righteous gift, part of Maimonides’ second level of giving, next to helping someone be self-sufficient. It’s an anonymous gift. Neither the donor nor the recipient knows where it’s going. But it’s not a practical gift in the 21st century.”
JEWISHcolorado aspires to serve as a nexus of both approaches to giving. After three years of planning, led by Gart, and sorting through at least 10 different structural scenarios, the organization believes it has come up with “a more sustainable and rewarding business model.”
The “rewarding” part, Seserman explains, has to do with making the former federation a more fun place to work and volunteer for — hence, a more attractive entity for donors.
“One of the sadder parts in Jewish life, I think, is that when you serve in a leadership role, whether it’s professional or volunteer, you often experience as much tsuris as you do reward. That’s really not right.
“I think the federation, by its nature as the umbrella organization, was trying to be everything to everybody but it ended up being not meaningful enough to anyone. Because of that, we were like Complaint Box Central.
“We were looking for a model that would be more joyful to volunteer in, to donate to, to work in, where it’s clear what our role is in the community vis-à-vis the other organizations.
“One of the things that we feel most excited about is while people may like or not like exactly what we’ve come up with, we feel like we’ve got a little strut back. Now we can tell our story and it’s differentiated and fresh.”