Jewish Federation wants to hear from you

Andrew Rehfeld, Ph.D., is President and CEO of Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

By Andrew Rehfeld

From 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 3, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis will hold an open town hall meeting to discuss its proposed strategic plan at Congregation Shaare Emeth.  I hope you will consider joining us to provide your input into our future direction. 

The 2017 Strategic Plan is the first since 2010 and reflects both evolutionary and revolutionary aspects.  It clarifies the main aims of Federation as a community development organization for the St. Louis Jewish community.  And it changes the way we do our work, creating an open, collaborative and transparent structure that we believe will help generate support for the essential work being done by our partner community agencies, synagogues and organizations.  

The strategic plan was developed over a two-year process that involved community input and feedback.  Led by Gerry Greiman, our current Board Chair, the plan will be presented to our board of directors later this fall after we receive community input.  We expect to begin implementing the plan—with any changes necessary—in 2018.  

Over the next few months I will introduce our community to the plan through a series of essays.  In doing so, I hope to re-introduce our community to the mission and work of the Federation.  

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In this first installment I provide an overview of the plan’s three key components: the “why” of our work, the creation of a foundation process to establish our funding priorities, and bringing greater transparency and accountability to the programs that Federation runs ourselves. 

The “why” of Federation.  

The plan begins with an affirmation of our mission, a new vision statement and our four “core commitments” towards which our work aims.  These statements explain the “why” of Federation.    

Our mission remains unchanged:  

• “The Jewish Federation of St. Louis mobilizes the Jewish community and its human and financial resources to preserve and enhance Jewish life in St. Louis, Israel and around the world.”   

New to the plan is a statement of our vision: 

• “An engaged, vibrant and flourishing St. Louis Jewish community, in which individuals live with dignity, meaning and purpose, and a sense of belonging to the Jewish People, as part of a life well- lived.”

The plan establishes our four “core commitments” that keep us focused on our mission and helps us achieve our vision.  These are: 

  • Expand and strengthen an engaged, vibrant and flourishing St. Louis Jewish Community.  
  • Secure the wellbeing and safety of individuals within the Jewish community
  • Strengthen our connection to Israel and the Jewish people worldwide
  • Develop the financial and human resources, and infrastructure, needed by our community

These four “core commitments” will form the basis of our future funding priorities in a process that will be developed with community input as we implement the plan in 2018. 

The strategic plan also articulates two important structural changes that will help us achieve these aims. 

The first structural change is creating a process of funding and fundraising that is taken from the most successful foundations in the United States.  This “foundation model” begins by establishing communal needs before raising funds to meet these needs. 

Why is this a change? 

In the past, Federation’s model was based on obligation, in which individuals were asked to give and trust in us to invest the funds wisely to serve the community.  That model only works if people feel a sense of shared obligation to keep the system running. 

Connection to Jewish life and the Jewish people has been weakening for decades, and with it many community members no longer prioritize a vibrant Jewish community.  Despite our successes of the last few years, we need to inspire people with a clear vision to guide their Jewish philanthropy.  The foundation model that we are adopting will allows us to do that more effectively for the greater good.  

The second important structural change relates to programs and services that Federation operates itself.  

Federation has been providing programs since at least the 1980s.  They include the Brodsky Library (1983), the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center (1995), the Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (2004), and the Millstone Institute for Leadership (2011).  In 2015, the former Central Agency for Jewish Education integrated with us, and we have now created a Center for Jewish Learning and operate PJ Library as a result of that integration.  Earlier this year we added a Community Security Coordinator strengthening our security services for any agency, synagogue and organization in our community—most at no cost to them.  This is a small part of what your annual campaign dollars support. 

There are clear cost benefits to the community for the Federation to run these programs. However we recognize that they may seem to compete with other organizations. The strategic plan establishes principles to create greater transparency about the funding of these programs and to hold us accountable to our community. 

These three changes—clarity of the “why” of our work, the establishment of a new foundation model to inspire Jewish philanthropy, and greater transparency and accountability of the programs we operate—will mark a new beginning for the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.  It will establish the Federation as a true community development organization. More details on all of these features will come in the weeks ahead.

I recognize that with change comes concern. Our agencies rely on core allocations to help them do their work, and Federation must remain here to support them.  I do not envision this support going away.  But how that support continues will be the issue we take up during the implementation process in 2018, and involve broad community input, particularly from our agencies. 

So please, join Gerry Greiman and me at 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 3, at Congregation Shaare Emeth to make your voice heard about this strategic plan.  If you would like a copy in advance please contact Emily Bornstein at [email protected] or visit  stljewishlight.com/strategic_plan. And if you ever have a question or concern about the plan or Federation more generally, please contact me directly as well at [email protected]