The staff of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle received a shock when they assembled for a staff meeting first thing Monday morning: Their president and CEO, Richard Fruchter, announced his resignation, effective September 30.
Fruchter and his wife “were thinking about this for a number of months,” he told JTNews. “It’s the end of the fiscal year, it’s the end of the [program] year, and the end of the [Community Campaign] year. You don’t have many gaps, but you have a gap now, so I thought this would be a good time.”
Fruchter has also had to contend with ailing parents during the past several weeks, which contributed to his decision.
“When you have elderly parents, this is the time to put energy into them,” he said. “It’s really hard to do this job fully, and pay the attention that I need to my family.”
Nancy Greer, the Federation’s chief operating officer, has stepped in as interim CEO until a new CEO and president is hired. David Chivo, vice president of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy, the Federation’s fundraising arm, will assume some of Fruchter’s external relations responsibilities as well. Fruchter plans to assist with the leadership transition through September.
“I’m working very closely with Nancy and David to make sure that they understand all the issues that I’ve worked on and they’re fully cognizant of the work that I’m doing,” Fruchter said.
Current leadership does not believe the agency will suffer from a gap in leadership.
“We’ve got a great staff,” said Shelley Bensussen, the Federation’s board chair. “Everyone’s really supportive. There’s no such thing as ‘It’s not my job’ now. It’s everybody’s job and we’re working as a team. I think we have the right people in place.”
Once hired, the new CEO will have the challenge of growing the Federation’s community campaign, which has declined each of the past four years. With little exception, the economy during that time has not been kind to many Jewish organizations, both locally and nationwide. But those drops have been small in relation to other Jewish communities.
“We did really well as I compare notes with colleagues around the country,” Fruchter said. “We seem to have broadened our base. We’ve lost a number of major donors over the last few years through them passing on, and yet our campaigns haven’t taken the dramatic dips that we’ve seen around the country, even with the economy being pretty difficult here.”
Fruchter arrived in Seattle for the second time in August 2006, in the immediate aftermath of the shooting at the Federation that took the life of Pamela Waechter and injured six others. He worked for the Seattle Federation as a fundraiser in the 1980s, then worked in other Jewish communities until his return. He divides this six-year tenure into three periods:
“We had the first two years as really revolving around the shooting, and all the issues of staffing and moving…and trying to get everyone healthy again,” he said. “The next two years were really around the economic recession and trying to maintain things, and the next two years were really around the new model, which has now been successfully launched.”
The new fundraising and allocations model that launched a year ago allows Federation donors to direct their money to specific impact areas. The allocations process, instead of giving away blanket operating dollars, is now a grant-making process based on specific projects for both existing beneficiaries and Jewish organizations that had never received funding in the past.
Fruchter counts dealing with the shooting the foremost of his achievements during his tenure.
In a letter he wrote to friends and community leaders, “I learned that compassion, faith, perseverance, courage, hope and acts of loving-kindness can triumph over hate, anger and fear.”
In addition, he said, “It changed the way Jewish organizations look at security. It made people look differently at how they prepare for safety issues, and it certainly made the community here appreciate the role that we play, and what a central and convening role that the Federation has.”
SAFE Washington, the sub-agency formed after the shooting and administered by the Federation, facilitates information sharing among local law-enforcement agencies. It has been hailed as a model for the rest of the country.
In terms of community engagement, many of the accomplishments Fruchter points to affected younger members of the Jewish community: The PJ Library children’s book program and events, two teen philanthropy programs, and the upcoming Wexner leadership program, a young adult leadership program.
Ron Leibsohn, who served as Federation board chair for three of Fruchter’s six years with the agency, said Fruchter “should be very proud of what he accomplished.”
“Richard came in under the most difficult conditions,” Leibsohn said. “He did extremely well in not only guiding us through that very difficult period, but also in instigating the numerous new programs and initiatives to the community, [and] kept us on a reasonably good financial basis in terms of getting through the difficult fundraising period.”
Current board chair Bensussen said now is the time for the Federation to move forward.
“We’re just going to keep the momentum going,” she said. “We’re moving ahead and fine-tuning the new model [and] moving the campaign.”