The article to which this column is responding can be found here.
“Whither the Jewish Federation” raises several critically complex questions and offers insightful inquiry. But it hasn’t been “business as usual” at the Federation — quite the contrary. A closer look reveals an institution where tectonic shifts are transforming how we do business. It highlights the dilemma between continuing financial support for established, legacy organizations while at the same time seeding innovation and growth among our newest community organizations.
Indeed, we are at a crossroads. The Federation is undergoing significant changes. These changes are reflected in the priorities and requests for support from new organizations and increased participation by a broad range of community members. Complementing this new energy is an active board, among whose members more than half are new within the past five years.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle has transformed itself into a vibrant, forward-looking organization. We abandoned an antiquated funding and fundraising model with isolated decision-making that prevented broad community involvement and creativity. This model worked in the 1980s but today we are revitalized and committed to a new democracy of ideas. Driving this transformation over the past three years were nearly 150 community stakeholders who participated in goal setting, community-wide forums, and town halls. Along with Federation professional and lay leaders, it was these community members who identified community goals, determined funding priorities, and evaluated funding requests.
Through this process the Federation collaborated with more segments of the community than ever before. It is uncertain how the state of the economy will affect fundraising, but what is certain is that we have new leadership, creativity on the ground, new voices being heard, and innovation being funded. History is not repeating itself at Seattle Federation — we respectfully disagree. The significant change demanded by our diverse community has arrived.
Our new funding model is designed to foster creativity and innovation, without being burdened by historical allocations to a limited number of beneficiary organizations. We have responded to donors’ desire for choice and have added value like never before. Donors now have assurance that their gifts will go to support their passions, including organizations that previously were not beneficiaries of the community campaign.
We are not going backwards to the “basics” of an old model. In the new democracy of ideas, what matters is the quality of ideas and how they foster dynamic expressions of Jewish life. Gone are the days when funds flowed according to legacy budgets or the influence of a subset of the community. Through ongoing and continuous self-examination, the Federation has streamlined its operations and mission, reduced overhead, and eliminated programs not central to its mission.
There is already momentum for change. We are fortunate that interim CEO Nancy Greer and executive vice president David Chivo provide exceptional managerial, strategic, and operational talent at the helm. New thinking expands beyond the funding model itself as we explore additional approaches to stimulate innovations in Seattle’s Jewish communal life.
With any new course there are risks and fears. It is understandable that some in our community are concerned about the future. Nevertheless, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle is taking some of the boldest and most innovative steps in the nation to respond to the new Jewish philanthropic landscape. Although some results will quickly surface, it will take time to observe the full impact.
As Victor Frankl wrote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation — we are challenged to change ourselves.”
We invite you to join us in challenging ourselves; let us know what you are
passionate about — firstname.lastname@example.org.
The executive committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle:
Zane Brown Jr.