2009 Campaign sees another dip

BY DAVID BAUGHER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Battling the effects of a slumping economy, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis’s Annual Campaign lost ground for the second straight year, shedding more than four percent from 2008’s figures.

According to totals released earlier this month, the Federation’s annual fundraising push garnered $10.24 million. Officials had earlier expressed hope of matching 2008’s $10.7 million goal but the fiscal climate proved too difficult. The high water mark for the campaign came in 2007 when it capped five straight years of growth by breaking the $11 million mark.

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While the numbers hold much reason for concern, Federation leadership expressed relief that things could have been far gloomier.

“I think it was definitely better than we thought it was going to be at the beginning of the year. It was definitely better than most nonprofits and sister federations,” said Barry Rosenberg, executive vice president of the agency. “That said, we’re clearly disappointed in that it means we have less to give to the organizations that we support and the people who derive benefits from them. That’s very troubling for all of us.”

Rosenberg said that the effect of the recession had been blunted by a rethinking of the organization’s fundraising strategies. Federation officials had held off on asking for donations until the worst of the economic storm had passed in hopes of coaxing larger gifts from donors.

Another prong of the Federation’s efforts could be seen in December’s LightFest event, which brought in more than $200,000 as well as food, toys and clothing for those in need. Ruth Lederman, assistant executive vice-president and director of development, said the community should be very proud of what it accomplished under tremendous economic strain. She called the results a “mixed bag.”

“Obviously, we’re very excited that we did as well as we did,” she said. “Many communities came in double digits lower.”

Though designed to boost fundraising in a challenging period, a possible future for LightFest, which drew more than 3,300 participants was under discussion, she said.

Bob Millstone, campaign vice-president, said that there was also other good news. Federation endowment investments were bouncing back, seeing a return of more than 27 percent reaching $99.2 million in assets. He also noted that Federation supporters had been very generous, given the circumstances.

“Our community should take pride in our campaign,” said Millstone in a Federation release issued to media. “Many donors came through and actually maintained and, in many cases, increased their giving. And you have to remember, these are people who are not immune in this terrible economy.”

Still despite the successes, the numbers do mean tough allocation decisions are likely.

“Regardless of the fact that we might have done better than most, the reality is that there is still less money to be allocated to those agencies and services that are so needed during these times,” Lederman said. “It makes it difficult to be happy because it’s a double edged sword.”

The Federation itself has worked to keep costs down. Rosenberg noted last summer in his monthly jewishinstlouis.org posting, “The Update,” that the organization cut expenses by more than six percent and its workforce by 13 percent — primarily by salary freezes and attrition.

Moreover, the future remains uncertain as the dust continues to settle and fears of a “double-dip” recession still abound. Calling the coming year’s fund raising environment “very difficult,” Lederman said Federation leadership had not yet settled on a goal for 2010.

“The philanthropic landscape has changed drastically in the last couple of years,” Lederman said. “People’s mindsets are still in a wait-and-see mode. The market does different things every day and I don’t think the confidence level regarding the economy has strengthened.”

With government funding and foundation grants drying up during the recession, Rosenberg urged donors to continue to support the Federation so it can fund the work of its constituent agencies whose services are often in greater need during tough times. He also pledged to work to return the organization to a growing Campaign.

“One of the big challenges for 2010 is that a number of the strategies that we put into place last year resulted in one-time dollars,” he said. “Those were tremendously important and we’re deeply grateful but we need to make up those one-time dollars so it will be a much steeper climb just to be where we were in 2009 than it would have been in a normal year.”