2013 JFed campaign saw slight decrease

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

After seeing a mild recovery in 2012, the unrestricted portion of the annual campaign for the Jewish Federation of St. Louis fell slightly last year, to just under $9.37 million, a decline of about $150,000.

“We are flattening the decreases from the crisis, and we are very optimistic that with the renewed focus on community development and community building from the Federation, there does seem to be a renewed excitement,” said Andrew Rehfeld, president and CEO of the Federation. “You are not going to see the results of that for a year or two.” 

In 2007, the Federation’s unrestricted dollars topped $11 million, but since the economic crisis, the umbrella agency’s annual effort declined in five of the past six years. 

The Federation’s total fundraising, including restricted dollars and Create a Jewish Legacy gifts, also fell, to just under $19.7 million last year from close to $27 million in 2012. 

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However the agency’s leadership said that a significant share of the difference represents the conversion to a more conservative accounting method for longer-term giving rather than a real change.

Rehfeld expressed optimism with the campaign, pointing to hopeful signs, such as the fact that returning donors from 2012 were more generous, boosting their contributions by 3 percent.

The organization also recorded an 82 percen increase in money from new givers. The number of new donors increased as well, by 6 percent, which Rehfeld lauded as a first in the past seven years.

“That’s where the future of the campaign is,” he said.

He said the solid totals on new giving failed to push the effort into positive territory because of “the passing of a number of very important and very committed (high-end) donors. The loss of their vision and their legacy in the community was significant.”

Rehfeld said the small decline essentially amounted to a flat campaign during a transitional year for the organization. The Federation continues to fill out its development staff, including a search for a vice president of philanthropy to head the department that has been ongoing since September. 

“When we have a full complement of staff, I think you’ll see our ability to raise targeted dollars will increase as well,” Rehfeld said. 

Those targeted dollars were a major focus of the 2012 campaign, which brought in over $4.2 million in restricted cash. By contrast, last year’s effort pulled in just under $1.8 million. However, Rehfeld said that it isn’t unusual for restricted funds to vary substantially from one year to the next depending on needs in the community. The previous restricted total was buoyed by a major campaign for Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School.

“Some of the targeted giving goes to crisis giving as well,” he said. “We were fortunate last year. We didn’t have a Gaza campaign to raise money for. Sometimes it is a good thing to have lower numbers because there aren’t these kinds of crises that create these one-time spikes you see.”

The targeted collections this time around are more in line with figures from 2011, when the Federation brought in just under $1.7 million into the restricted pool of funds.

Longer-term giving under the Create a Jewish Legacy program totaled $8.3 million in 2013, significantly less than the $12.5 million recorded the previous year. Yet, Federation leadership said that much of the change is just a switch in the manner in which such dollars are counted. Previously, the methodology used involved estimating funds when a potential donor signed a pledge to consider giving. From now on, the Federation will only count that cash when it has solidified into an irrevocable commitment by the donor.

“We’re going to assign values to gifts that the donor assigns value to,” Rehfeld said. “That’s the responsible way to do it going forward.”

Rehfeld said that, given the figures, the Federation would be able to continue to support the community at the same level as last year at allocation time, a fact he said is more important than the exact total.

“What the number is, is irrelevant,” he said. “It is what those dollars can do for the community serving those in need and helping to build identity, education and community.”

Rachel Pereles, campaign director and associate director of development, said she was very proud of what the organization had been able to do.

“It has been a time of transition this last year that has made things a little bit more challenging but to hit the number that we hit with about half the staff was really incredible,” she said. “We have amazing volunteers and a board that really stepped up.”

Pereles said she believes the augmentation of the new donor base is a step in the right direction. While final goals haven’t been set for this year, she said the agency will look to break the $10 million mark again, a total the campaign hasn’t seen since 2009. 

Rehfeld said the Federation will continue its mission of supporting the growth of Jewish education, community and social services.

“We are committed to finding a way to meet last year’s allocations level so that the community can maintain the expectations it has had of Federation,” he said. “We need to use this as a base and grow from here.”