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Time to rethink Jewish charities?
Time to rethink Jewish charities?

In his recent resignation letter, Jewish Leadership Council Chairman, Sir Mick Davis called the current communal architecture not fit for purpose, with too many charities competing for funding. Sir Mick’s critique is not new; many of us have been aware of the problem for decades. However, I had thought a key objective of the JLC was the development of a global communal strategy. At the level of individual organisations, there are some shining examples of future planning already under way, but, at the macro level — planning the future of Anglo Jewry plc — nothing.

According to New Philanthropy Capital, the Jewish charity sector has a total annual income of £1bn. For a community of just over 250,000 people, we can take great pride in this but have you ever heard of a company with an annual income of a billion pounds without a strategic plan for sustaining its position?

In a little over a decade, it is estimated that more than half of Jewish children in the UK will be born to Charedi families. At best, the mainstream community will stagnate; at worst, it will decline. By 2030, the relatively smaller mainstream community will have to support a larger Jewish community. So Sir Mick’s clarion call is apposite but why should anyone listen now if they haven’t for decades?

Over the years, I have often heard mention of the c-word — consolidation — but there has been no will to implement it. When the Jewish Blind Society and the Jewish Welfare Board merged to create Jewish Care 25 years ago, Norwood Childcare (as it was then known) was invited to join but Norwood’s lay leaders declined. This kind of reticence is often euphemistically referred to as “vested interests” getting in the way. Surely the only vested interest should be support for those whom these organisations were set up to provide?

Several forces now make the move to consolidation more likely than ever. First, those charities engaged in social care are seriously challenged by the reductions in statutory funding. The need for their services is rising just as the traditional provision of public funding is declining. This forces us to review our priorities for communal funding and calls for more fundraising where it is most needed: social care.

Second, a new generation of donors wants to see more efficiency in the organisations that benefit from their charitable support. For decades, our community has enjoyed the extraordinary generosity of a small group of families and individuals who have provided most of the funds needed by the charities. This is known as the 90:10 principle; 10 per cent of the donors have provided 90 per cent of the money needed, though in some cases it is even more pronounced at 95:5. Most of this has been based on peer-to-peer networking: “I’m giving to your cause, so you’re giving to mine”.

For today’s generation of donors, though, philanthropy operates on very different terms. The language has changed to one of social investment and the measurement of impact. It’s not surprising, because the real money today sits largely with those who work in the financial sector. These donors also take a different approach to the engagement with charities. They have no time for committees, are disinclined to network their peers, preferring to write one big cheque, and really don’t want to go to fifty charity dinners but would rather have a personal presentation once a year. In addition, many of today’s Jewish donors are giving beyond the community, so the competition for their support is even greater.

As if all of this wasn’t enough, the viability of our communal structure is challenged by two more factors. First, the continuity story is far from over. Great sums have been invested in the development of Jewish secondary education in the belief that this will secure the future involvement of our children but it is by no means a guarantee. The influences and opportunities that our teenagers experience today are radically different from those enjoyed in the past. With the arrival of the internet and social media, the youth movements of our childhood are seriously compromised. Indeed, the Jewish world is way behind the digital curve.

We simply can’t assume that a place at day school, punctuated by the highlights of bar/batmitzah programmes, summer tour and — if we’re lucky — a gap year will do the job. Time on campus has always been important but it is now of fundamental significance. Lose them at university and it will be extremely difficult to reconnect with them later. We need a major focus on preventing disengagement because a lack of involvement in Jewish life and its institutions will be a direct challenge to future funding. A much broader and experimental menu than currently on offer is needed, all the way from the age of 12 to probably 32. Naturally, this greater range of regular Jewish fixes and highs will require far more investment, which brings me to the second factor: our relationship with Israel.

During a trade mission to China last month, Israel’s Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen spoke of his country’s ambition to become the 15th largest economy by 2025. In less than 80 years, the pioneer nation will have become a great economic power but we still believe Israel needs our charity. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t many social issues in Israel that need charitable funding but should this necessarily continue to come from our community? Are we willing to raise our game to the level required? In my recent experience, the answer is a resounding “no”. Indeed, amongst a younger generation of donors who see Israel in a different light to their parents and grandparents, their focus is on securing the future for their children here in the UK. We need to connect with this if we are to sustain their financial support and in turn, their children’s future involvement in our community.

So, this is the moment to begin the intelligent debate on how to consolidate our communal structure. Note that I’ve avoided using the f-word — federation — because I am not convinced the North American communal fundraising model would work here. But regardless of the endgame, calm planning must begin now if we are to avoid a panicked response later.

This article first appeared in the Jewish Chronicle.

Lionel Salama

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