Editorial: Check and Raise

The Jewish Light reported last week on the Jewish Federation of St. Louis’ annual campaign results, and due to the loss of a few major donations, giving trends and the economy, the campaign itself was down from 2010. The organization also touted some strong results in other areas, notably the Create a Jewish Legacy program which encourages planned giving that can sustain organizations in generations to come.

Was the news about the annual campaign results important? Sure, but taken at face value, it provides little in the way of serious analysis. A better and more pointed question is this: Are we collectively headed in the right direction to enable funding of key Jewish needs? The answer is yes, with qualifications and more data required.

The Jewish community is so used to measuring success of giving through the annual campaign’s comparison to the year prior that the other reported streams of giving, and new methods for encouraging donations, tend to float right by some without sufficient focus. That’s because if in years past the campaign was up, as it so often was, we’d congratulate ourselves and hope for even better things the following year. We principally defined outcome through a method, the campaign, that was the mainstay of how so many generous folks in our community tended to give money.

That’s not a good analysis in today’s philanthropic world. Even though the annual campaign generated less than expected, it still brought in a hefty $9.4 million in general funds for the community. Raising unrestricted funds in today’s environment of donor-directed and program-specific giving is no picnic, and the Federation correctly continues to encourage that stream.

The annual campaign number, however, while an essential piece of the pie, is these days much more of a foundation than a structure unto itself. The giving streams of the past have been augmented by new and different trends, and we must recognize this reality.

Still, in any environment, it’s important to measure success. We want to know that our fundraising efforts resonate, that we’re telling the right stories and showing the right results. We want to be able to look at our efforts and have a high confidence level that we’re doing the right things to generate the resources to provide key services, programs and agencies that can maximize our collective success.

There are several ways to do this, and at several levels. If we still want to measure the annual campaign itself, we can compare it to those in other cities, but this analysis is flawed, as there’s so much variation among markets and in how federations (and similar umbrella organizations like United Way) are raising money.

A better place to look is at the entirety of Federation efforts to encourage all kinds of giving across the fundraising spectrum:

• Annual unrestricted giving and restricted giving

• Endowments, which have resulted in a major corpus within the Jewish Community Foundation on behalf of numerous organizations

• Planned giving like the Legacy program

• Collaborative fundraising among institutions

From this angle the number of streams and methods look strong; if the Legacy bequests from 2011 are realized, for instance, Federation will have partnered to bring in almost $14 million in new planned giving assets for its agencies.

So far, so good. This broader approach gets closer to effective analysis, but still, it doesn’t tell the entirety of the fundraising story. For to do so we must examine the community’s giving comprehensively, looking not only at the Federation’s efforts but, as much as possible, the fundraising picture for all Jewish efforts and organizations.

Which gets us back to the qualifications and data necessary to evaluate our collective course. A truly effective critique will assess whether we are raising the resources needed to accomplish the goals of the entire Jewish community-those of the Federation, under its 2010 Strategic Plan, the Federated agencies (the Jewish Light is one of those), and all other Jewish organizations that provide essential services and programs-utilizing the most efficient and effective means possible, and in a way that honors the contributions, large and small, of thousands of donors to Jewish causes.

No one said either doing or assessing this would be easy, and in today’s climate, both are downright hard. But by taking our eyes off a myopic view of just one component, the annual campaign, and looking at the scope and breadth of ways we can sustain our work on behalf of the community, we move toward a more rational and, dare we say, a more likely vision of future success.