At New Year, Federation campaign is ahead of ’11

The audience at the Jewish Federation New Year’s event was treated to entertainment — including a dance that included hand-made signs (not pictured in above photo) thanking donors for their contributions to Jewish Federation. For more photos, see following page. Photo: Lyubov Strauss

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

According to recent figures, the Jewish Federation’s annual campaign is progressing significantly ahead of last year’s figures.

“We’re trying to meet donors where they are and trying to show the importance of sustaining their community from their perspective,” said Ruth Lederman, vice-president and director of development.

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Lederman said the umbrella agency has cracked the $5.2 million mark so far with totals showing it more than $670,000 ahead of 2011’s pace, an increase of 8.5 percent.

The Federation’s annual fundraising effort has endured tough times since the economic crisis with 2011 capping a four-year slide that has brought the campaign to $9.4 million, a low not seen in more than a decade. The figure represents a nearly 15 percent drop from its 2007 high-water mark.

Earlier this year, Lederman attributed much of the decline to a loss of a few high-end donors combined with the disappearance of effects from one-time fundraising efforts.

She said that this summer things are looking up.

“There was a major commitment to try to speak to people earlier in the year and we had some significant increases. One of the largest (came from) Michael and Carol Staenberg, who increased their gifts significantly to the annual campaign in hopes that we could get it back to a level we’d seen in the past,” she said.

Reached by phone, Staenberg said he was happy to be a part of the effort.

“I just think it’s important for people to recognize how important the giving is and how many lives it affects,” he said.

Lederman called the Federation’s efforts multi-tiered.

“With younger donors, we’re trying to appeal with a more enhanced marketing effort and through social media,” she said. “With our larger donors we’re trying to really personalize their solicitations and give them opportunities to give to restricted giving efforts for things that are passions of theirs.”

The latter point has been an ongoing theme for the Federation, which is hoping to diversify philanthropic opportunities in newer, more unique ways such as the “Create a Jewish Legacy” effort. This partnership with 10 local agencies and eight area synagogues aims to boost long-term giving and endowments. Lederman said that over a two-year period, “Create a Jewish Legacy” has brought in 289 gifts estimated at over $20 million. Some are deferred so exact totals aren’t known.

“As our allocations begin to be more targeted to those things that fit within the strategic plan, you’ll also see our fundraising strategies changing where we’ll have different opportunities for donors to give beyond the annual campaign.”

She said the Federation has also played a key role in helping to raise $2.7 million for the Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School.

Other initiatives have been more traditional. The Lester Miller Challenge is matching increases in pledges by anyone who gives between $1,000 and $9,999.

“We thought we needed to pay particular attention to the mid-level of the campaign so that’s where we focused this challenge,” she said.

The $1,000 plateau also figures prominently in Federation planning in another way. Donors at that level were the focus of a thank-you event at the Four Seasons Hotel Sept. 13. Billed as a “playful celebration of Rosh Hashanah” the get-together featured no speeches but hosted live dueling pianos, drinks and dessert.

Mindee Fredman, project coordinator for the Federation, said that the event is an expression of how important mid-level givers are.

“We’re always looking for different ways to reach out to our donors and to thank them for their commitment and generosity and we’re excited to do something different this year,” she said. “This is a really crucial group of donors who have such an impact on our community. We wanted to do something special to celebrate them.”

Lederman said it’s important for people to understand that the Federation is expanding fundraising beyond its much-publicized yearly drive.

“I would hope that donors, when they look at the Jewish Federation, will know we are no longer just the annual campaign,” she said. “There are many different ways to be engaged as a philanthropist.”

She said that she talks quite a bit to her counterparts at other federations around the country and the environment remains cautious with St. Louis’s story being fairly average.

“We consistently fall right in the middle of the pack,” she said. “There are communities who are already seeing kind of a rebound and doing very well in exceeding the past year’s totals and there are other communities that are still struggling.”

She said the mission of the Federation is what’s most important.

“While we’re very much seen as a fundraising organization, basically what we do is make sure there are services in our community and that address needs and help people,” she said.

But they are not the only entity working to help others and that’s one reason the recovery could take time.

“I think it’s not necessarily because of the economy but because there are a lot of different philanthropic places to give,” Lederman said, “and I think Federation really has to make the case why we’re important.”

She believes that the strategic plan and the organization’s new executive, Andrew Rehfeld, present exciting opportunities to return the Federation to its previous totals.

“We won’t be there this year but it can get us going down that path,” she said.