Jewish groups fare poorly on annual fundraising list

While economists say the recession ended more than a year ago, you wouldn’t know it to look at Jewish nonprofits, according to the findings of the latest Philanthropy 400.

In an annual list released Monday by The Chronicle of Philanthropy of the top 400 nonprofits in the United States, fund raising at the country’s largest Jewish charities had declined by an average of 18.5 percent in 2009 — nearly twice as much as the list as a whole, which showed a fund-raising decline of 10 percent.

Only two Jewish charities ranked among the top 100 earners in 2009, with the Jewish Federations of North America and its overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, ranking 45 and 78, respectively.

Some of the country’s largest Jewish charities took significant hits. Hadassah was down 7.9 percent to $78 million; the JDC fell 8.5 percent to $224 million; Yeshiva University dropped nearly 40 percent to $111 million; and Brandeis University was down 12.6 percent to $78 million. On the other hand, the Birthright Israel Foundation rose 46.8 percent to just over $71 million.

It seems that 2009 was an especially hard year for the Jewish federation system.

The Chronicle’s accounting of the 147-federation system is always a bit tricky, as some of the largest federations are counted by themselves and not with the rest of the system.

According to the Chronicle’s survey, the JFNA brought in $320,252,000 in 2009, a 19.6 percent drop from the previous year (when it was known as the UJC, for United Jewish Communities).

All but one of the top federations on the list, which were counted separately, showed significant declines. The UJA-Federation of New York was down 10 percent to $159.7 million and the JUF-Jewish Federation of Chicago was down 15 percent to $133.5 million.

Only the Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore saw an increase, gaining 10 percent to reach $62 million.

On the positive side, two Jewish organizations were new to this year’s list of the top 400: American Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and the Jewish National Fund. On the other side, two Jewish organizations dropped off the list: the Jewish Community Foundation of San Diego and the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, N.J., both of which made the top 400 for 2008 thanks to significant one-time gifts.

This marks the 20th year that the Chronicle has conducted the survey. It provided an opportunity to see how top charities have evolved since 1991 and how donor interests may have changed.

In general, the largest charities have stayed relatively stable. Some 228 charities made the list in both 1991 and 2010, and they increased their mean fund-raising by 228 percent. When adjusted for inflation, they raised 81 percent more in real dollars last year than they did two decades ago. And the largest of the large have fared well, according to the Chronicle: Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Catholic Charities USA, the Salvation Army and the Y (formerly YMCA) stayed in the list’s top 20, with each group at least tripling the amount raised over the two decades.

Still the landscape has changed dramatically. Nearly half the list is new since 1991. Jewish charities have declined. In 1991, two Jewish organizations were in the top 10, but this year the top Jewish charity, the Jewish federation system, only made it as high as No. 45.

Fundermentalist’s take: The Philanthropy 400 is a valuable snapshot of where things stand in the philanthropic world. And when looking at the very big picture perhaps the news isn’t all bad for the tip of the top Jewish philanthropy. Jewish dollars are still flowing to the largest organizations, and the rate has actually held fairly steady.

Keep this in mind. In 2005, there were 24 Jewish charities listed among the 400 and combined they raised just over $2 billion. In 2010, after the economy has been shaken to its core, 22 Jewish charities ranked, and they raised $2.01 billion.

But the list always seems a bit troubling when it comes to counting Jewish federation dollars, especially, primarily because of the way individual federations count their own fund raising and the way the Chronicle looks at the whole system.

According to the 400, 2009 was borderline catastrophic for the federation system – and to be sure our anecdotal evidence and our hardcore evidence tells us that giving to federations is down and down big. For proof, all one has to do is look at the precipitous drop in the money the dollars the system is sending to its overseas agencies over the past several years – from around $140 million a few years ago to just around $100 million.

And according to the 400, the federation system took another 20 percent hit as it brought in around $330 million.

But, the JFNA says that in actuality the numbers for the federations are not as bad as the report may seem.

Looking at the federation system’s campaign as a whole, and including the larger federations, the 2009 annual campaign stood at $938 million, a 10 percent drop from 2008’s $1.04 billion campaign and more in line with the national averages for declines.

In total, according to the JFNA, the federations took in $2 billion in 2009 when counting all of their assets, including endowments and foundations such as the Jewish Communal Fund of New York. This year, the federations are ahead of the 2009 pace, as they have taken in $747 million in 2010, a 3.4 percent increase over the same period of last year.

The numbers are similarly tricky when it comes to counting the individual federations.

Unlike many other charities, federations usually take in money through several different vehicles – namely through their annual fund raising campaigns, donor advise funds and endowment funds.

Take the Combined Jewish Philanthropies in Boston, for instance. The CJP, according to the Chronicle took in $84,954,290 for a 21.1 percent drop.

Officials at the CJP, however say that the number is skewed. In actuality, their fund-raising faired quite well, according to CFO, David Strong.

The real mark of how a federation is faring should be measured in terms of the annual campaign, he said, because contributions to endowments are most often based on bequest gifts and donor advise funds are highly volatile and especially sensitive to the economic climate and changes in tax laws.

The CJP’s annual campaign in 2009, was only down 3 percent, he said. As it dropped from $45.7 million to $44.4 million – an especially strong showing, he said, given that the federation’s fiscal year ends June 30 meaning that all of its numbers were tallied in the dead of the recession.

It is true that contributions to the federation’s donor advise funds were off from $63 million in 2008 to $31 million in 2009. But, Strong said, in 2008 the federation was able to capitalize on the Pension Protection Act, which made it beneficial for donors to give to his donor advise fund.