New JFed leader says economy is among challenges


Sanford Neuman, founding partner and chair of the law firm Gallop, Johnson & Neuman and newly installed 38th president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, realizes he faces unprecedented financial challenges, but also sees “opportunities for greater cooperation, coordination and positive change.” Last week, shortly before he was to take office as JFed president on Wednesday, Sept. 9, Neuman sat down for an exclusive interview with the St. Louis Jewish Light in his Clayton law office.

What drew you to take on the challenges of the presidency of the Jewish Federation at this time?

I can give you a facetious answer — I thought it would look good on my resume.

It was the opportunity to have a meaningful voice in what is going on in the Jewish community. And there are a lot of issues that I have strong feelings about. I was frankly surprised at the opportunity. But I felt it was something I would enjoy doing. I enjoy working with people. These are times of real challenge for the St. Louis Jewish community, and I thought it would be exciting to be part of the solution.

Speaking of challenges, what do you see as the greatest challenges facing the Jewish community? Specifically, I would like you to address the current economic downturn and its impact on the local, national and worldwide Jewish community?

Well, obviously, the economy is a big challenge, not just for the Jewish community, but charitable organizations in general. As I see this, while it’s a challenge to continue to raise funds to provide vital services, it’s also an opportunity to re-examine the way services are delivered. I think every organization is going to have to be more efficient, and look for ways to collaborate with organizations that provide similar kinds of services. This can help eliminate duplication. In a way, it’s an opportunity to cause organizations to look at the community’s needs somehow with a clean slate. By that I mean if you were starting a new Jewish community today, what services would we want to provide, by which organizations, and how can it be most efficient in providing these services? The planning and allocations process is going to stress the need to be more efficient.

You and other Federation leaders have been stressing the importance of greater collaboration, cooperation and even consolidations or mergers among agencies and services. What has been the response by the agencies to these efforts? Will the Federation become more proactive in urging such cooperation? Have you or others met informally with agencies to discuss these options?

Well, I haven’t actually met with agencies formally. I’ve had informal conversations with people in leadership positions in agencies. When one is nominated to be president of the Jewish Federation, the usual practice is to start meeting with Barry (Rosenberg, executive vice president of the JFed), at least once a week to know what’s going on. And I know that Barry has been involved in that process.

My impression is that the agencies are aware that we don’t have unlimited funds to spend, and I liked the way the allocations process worked when in a good year the core allocations went up, and in a bad year they went down a little bit, which meant a 2 or 3 percent drop, or whatever the reduction was. So I think agencies realize efficiencies will have to be something that everyone strives for — if it means sharing of facilities or if it means investing endowment funds through Federation at a more efficient rate. Any way that organizations can save funds by collaborating to save money, the organizations will be more receptive to.

Traditionally, among agencies, there has been a guarding of one’s turf, a resistance to changes such as those you outlined. Does the present economy give a greater urgency to cause agencies and programs to be more flexible in view of the economic realities?

I would hope so. And it’s not that anyone is trying to control what the organizations are doing. But it’s one thing to raise the money; it’s another thing to be responsible, and I see Federation as being responsible to make sure the money is being used in an efficient way to achieve the outcomes that the community wants. So, I think the agencies will be much more sensitive to this, and hopefully, there will be this sense of cooperation.

It seems that some of the move toward coordination and cooperation is already happening, for example among some of the local day schools, cooperating on joint purchasing, teacher training, supplies, etc. Do you see this kind of cooperation expanding?

I think some of those efforts resulting from meetings between the day school leadership and Barry Rosenberg, who has been encouraging them to cooperate in these ways. There is a desire and a sense of urgency to do this.

Could such cooperation be fostered among the defense and community relations agencies, such as the Jewish Community Relations Council and local chapters of such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and American Jewish Congress?

It would make sense, and I think there have been some informal discussions. It’s difficult to get an organization to do anything that might be seen as a threat to its autonomy or that it’s existence might be threatened. But certainly, these are classic examples of organizations in terms of overlap. It is difficult to get an organization to work towards eliminating duplication effort without making it feel that it could be putting itself out of existence. It’s a hard thing to do.

What about the potential for cooperation between and among the Federation, the agencies and our local synagogues and temples? Are there any areas in which cooperation can be increased?

I hope so. I have a lot of friends in a lot of congregations. There are a lot of organizations in the community that are dealing with financial stress, and congregations are high on that list. What you’re touching on is high on my list of priorities. Anyone who comes into office as Federation president wants to improve the relationships and expand cooperation among all of the branches of the community with the Federation-agency activities. We need to find ways to make the congregations feel that they are very much a part of the Federation’s community activities, that the Annual Federation Campaign is as important to them as it is to the agencies.

The board of trustees has been expanded to include involvement from all of the congregations. The Federation’s Development staff has this program called Create a Jewish Legacy, which essentially, under the chairmanship of Sherri Weintrop, has gone around to all of the congregations and all of the organizations in the community and has enlisted volunteers. The goal is to better understand how they can generate endowment dollars. One would think that we would be in competition for endowment dollars, but the truth is that if someone wants to give an endowment gift to B’nai Amoona, they aren’t going to be influenced by me coming around and saying, why give it to B’nai Amoona, why not give it the Federation? So the Create a Jewish Legacy program was created, and has had a series of training sessions, by professional outside trainers, to help participants understand how donors think and better understand how to build endowments for their own organizations. The first training session was held about two weeks ago, and was attended by about 50 or 60 people from the day schools and congregations, and from agencies and organizations.

When I was an undergraduate at Washington U., and later in law school, on Super Sunday, or some other Federation Campaign rally, we, as college kids, would go into neighborhoods to raise funds or get pledges. We were welcomed by families with coffee and bagels. It was very informal, warm and a lot of fun. Are there any plans to revive those kind of informal activities that involve lots of people and are fun?

The answer is yes. Let me address this on two levels. This Dec. 6, a Sunday, the Federation is planning an all-day session at the new J, and it’s not going to be a Super Sunday. There will be phone calls to thank people for their generosity, and some to solicit them for 2010. But it’s far more than a Super Sunday. There will be all kinds of activities. It will be a community building effort

One of the things I would like to do is to ask more people to take part, including people in the congregations. Congregations have taken back the afternoon Hebrew schools, and that’s costly. Over the past several years, the Crown Grants, the Lubin-Green Fund and the Rich Funds have made it so congregations can receive grants. Federation needs to look at how funds are dispersed, to establish relations with congregations so that funds could be diverted directly to the congregations for use in their educational programs. We hope to involve people who have been leaders in the congregations to join the community-wide efforts. By doing so, they will encourage others in their congregations to do the same. This would be a healthy thing for the community.

What about programs of outreach to younger people?

Well, you’ve touched on two more questions that interest me. Since I’ve been vice president for Campaign, I’ve had occasion to work a lot with the Young Professionals Division people. I’ve attended a number of their social functions, and I have to say, I’ve never been more impressed with a group of people than I have the YPD. Their numbers have grown — they are really sharp, attractive people. They are passionate about their Judaism. In many cases, they are people who were not involved in Federation and were drawn into it by friends of theirs. I happen to think soliciting major gifts is a piece of cake. The challenge is soliciting a first-time donor, who you have to educate about the cause, that he won’t go broke making this gift, and so forth. The YPD has that as its audience. They are going after people who have not previously given. More impressive is the fact that their numbers keep growing. And their leadership is very impressive. There have been a number of very successful young leaders. Some of these people are from out of town. The success of the YPD and its growth makes me feel optimistic about the future of our community.