Tuesday, December 27, 2011


I have been blessed having learned the lessons of philanthropy, capacity giving and collective responsibility from my community. When I read of the supposed "achievement" of another Federation (hint: the one with the most Jewish lawyers of any community in the world), which raised $1.6 million at its annual Lawyers Division dinner (our Lawyers Division in Chicago is raising about $9 million) or of 1,200 young adults attending the meaningless Tribefest earlier this year, I almost have to cry. Instead, focus with me if you will on Chicago's Young Leaders Mega-Event held on December 11...

The Event, held at the Chicago Sheraton, was headlined by NBC's Jimmy Fallon, and attracted 2,600...yes, you read it correctly...young men and women, who paid $80 per person. The 2,600 included 600 Birthright alumni and 1,000 members of Chicago's young leaders Ben Gurion Society -- men and women who contribute $1,000 and over to the Annual Campaign. And, yes, there was the dinner and the comedy...but, remember, this was a fund-raising event as any and every Chicago JUF/JFMC Event is.

Yes, some of you will dismiss this as "sure, that's Chicago; it doesn't work here in ___________. We could never do that." And, I think you are so wrong. What's needed: a dedicated core of young leaders; an understanding that the community must invest money to secure not only the future but the present; an enthusiastic and creative group of campaign professionals; and an understanding by all that "if I don't do this, who will?" It takes volunteers who call their friends, their colleagues, their business associates and say: "Are you going to the Event? I have a table and would love it if you would join me. It's going to be terrific." And, the word spreads and the room fills to overflowing...and then you begin to plan for and worry about next year.

What does this all mean: for Chicago it means that we are in the process, with Birthright and others, of securing the Next Generation for and within our community. Instead, I see other communities and our national organization distracted from their core purposes...and, then, wondering about why they have fallen so fast and so far. There's no magic to this -- there is focus, hard work, passion and dedication. You can do this as well.



Anonymous said...

Your comments are absolutely correct. We can look at any number of successful federations working in the same way as Chicago yet with smaller populations. Dedicated leaders, committed and understanding mega donors (yes they exist in almost all communities even those that are not successful)and competent professionals all of whom are committed to leading both by example and by saying follow me.

I am sorry that I saw the last few comments on the prior post after today's post. These comments seem directly opposite what is being proven to work in many places even outside of Chicago.

Anonymous said...

Richard - I'm surprised you think it's a good use of philanthropic funds to pay Jimmy Fallon $55,000 plus expenses. Seems like malpractice to me, given the current state of affairs in Chicagoland, the country, and the world.

RWEX said...

Dear Anonymous,

Do I suspect a bit of jealousy? Are you certain of your "facts." Do you know whether Fallon's appearance was sponsored? If you invested $50,000 and raised $1 million for the Annual Campaign, wouldn't it be "malpractice," to use your misplaced characterization, not to do so? Do you understand the concept of "return on investment?"

I feel sorry for your community or your former community, as the case may be.

Anonymous said...

Richard, I can tell you from my current edxperience that there is a fear rampant in many communities that precludes us professionals from making exactly those investments that you have written about. Laypersons who know nothing about raising money dictating that we raise it without the tools. And, what about help from JFNA -- there's no one there, pure and simple.

paul jeser said...

When the JNF (in the early 1990s) began buying lists for direct mail, netting about 10% on the first go around, we had a discussion with leadership: would you rather raise 10% of $250,000 (new $) or 100% of nothing. Direct mail continued and did very well for quite a few years.

There is a book (and now a website) called UNCHARITABLE that is must reading/viewing. If, in many cases, the lay leaders ran their business the way they run the FEDS and other Jewish organizations, they'd be out of business. http://www.uncharitable.net/

RWEX said...

To the Anonymous who hates Chicago (and whose first Comment appears above): Your second Comment will not be printed unless you moderate it. You remember from earlier personal attacks that I will not print that kind of screed...that hasn't changed.

Also, your bad math -- the salaries of Chicago's federation professionals are paid out of the generosity of 3,000 donors, just as in every federation, not from attendees at a single dinner.The same is true of speakers at 10's of events over the course of an Annual Campaign. (I once knew a CEO who was really bad at math; might that possibly be you?)

RWEX said...

ooops -- my math isn't very good either -- "that should be 30,000 donors" in my last Comment