Annual campaign tops $10 million

Above, Jewish Federation President and CEO Andrew Rehfeld addresses the audience at the 116th Annual Meeting on Sept. 7 at the Magic House in Kirkwood. Photo: Bill Motchan


Although Jewish Federation of St. Louis raised more than $10 million during last year’s annual campaign and received its first million-dollar donation, it still faces challenges related to an aging donor base, according to data recently provided by the organization.

Michael and Carol Staenberg, who have become increasingly prominent St. Louis philanthropists in recent years, donated $1 million to Federation, which serves as an umbrella organization for a variety of causes in the Jewish community. 

The organization increased its fundraising to $10.1 million in 2017 from $9.56 million in 2016. But the number of donors dropped last year to 4,354 from 4,390 in 2016 and 4,614 in 2015.

Much of that trend, Federation leaders have said, has to do with the fact that 35 percent of donors during the 2017 campaign — and a similar percentage in recent years — were born before 1945. Conversely, only 5 percent of donors were millennials, meaning they were born from 1981 to 2000. That’s a common trend for Federation chapters around the United States.

“That means it is essential for us to inspire those who are younger to donate,” said Joel Frankel, Federation campaign manager. “Whether it’s educating about how the power of one gift to our annual campaign touches all members of the Jewish community — from the [Jewish Community Center] to Covenant Place to [Jewish Family & Children’s Service] — to talking with them and understanding what holds them back from giving.”

Despite acknowledging that the downward trend in the number of donor is concerning, Frankel and others said they were encouraged by the number of first-time donors. That number increased to 286 last year from 227 in 2016.

Federation Board chairman Gerry Greiman attributes that success to the organization’s shift in the last few years to “really engage with our community first and develop a case for giving and only then soliciting for contributions.”

He also said that the Staenbergs’ record-setting donation was, of course, a big boost for the organization. About half of that money was set up as a matching fund and contingent on other people donating, Frankel said.

“I really can’t say enough about the generosity and leadership of Michael and Carol Staenberg,” said Greiman, who became board chairman last year. “Not only have they been generous with their own contributions, but they have done a great deal to inspire generosity among others.”

The Federation leaders also highlighted the growth of the Women’s Philanthropy Division of the organization, which in 2015 launched its annual L’Chaim event, a community fundraising dinner. The first year, 217 people donated at the event; last year, 398 donated, according to the organization.

“There has been great growth and energy in the Women’s Philanthropy movement,” Greiman said. 

Frankel said 1,600 people who had donated from 2012 through 2016 did not donate last year. Federation will focus on reaching them, he said.

“We have to understand what motivated them to give in the past  and inspire them to give on an annual basis to our community,” he said.