A gift to the collective: What it means and what I should have said

On a canvass in the fall of 2011 a donor asked me, “Why should I give to Federation CJA, when I can make a gift directly to the agencies or causes that matter most to me?” I answered by asking what she thought would happen if everyone gave in this way. “I suppose some causes would be really popular and others would suffer”, she replied.

The donor’s response was pretty good, but my explanation to her was incomplete.

I should have explained that while our agencies know how to design and deliver specialized programs and services, we know how to read the broader community landscape, identify current and future needs, and ensure that we are prepared to address those needs effectively.  When it comes to serving the community, our agencies have niche expertise, whereas we are expert generalists.

I should have explained that every year we undergo a rigorous allocations process to determine the most impactful and responsible use of our annual campaign proceeds. That we work with our agencies throughout the year to understand their realities and perspectives, and to strengthen their capacity to deliver for our community. And that we are therefore well-positioned to allocate in a smart, strategic and targeted way for maximum impact in the areas of greatest need.

I should have explained that we allocate funds to have impact that is as broad as it is deep. That every dollar raised helps to care for the Jewish vulnerable, build and nurture Jewish identity, advance our communal interests and contribute to a vibrant Israel – and to do all this in a myriad of ways.

I should have explained how we deliberate to balance today’s needs against tomorrow’s contingencies.  That we invest in our community (as we did by taking funds from capital to subsidize last year’s Mega Mission), while also saving for the proverbial rainy day (as we did by repaying the Mega Mission funds back into capital in our very next budget cycle). That we allocate yearly and on multiple fronts to strengthen Jewish identity today, while partnering with visionary donors through our Generations Fund to build the institutional excellence and innovation that will strengthen Jewish identity tomorrow.

I should have told the donor about Federation CJA’s extensive network of local, national, continental and international partnerships that allows us to optimize the value of a single campaign gift. So when Jews are in distress anywhere in the world (as in Ukraine), when Israel is under siege (as during the recent war in Gaza) or when disaster hits in an instant (as in Nepal), we can raise and allocate funds and harness that network to deliver real solutions quickly and effectively.  And that because of our existing infrastructure we can do all of this in real time, and flow 100% of funds raised directly to those in need.

I should have explained that planning and allocating for the collective – the exercise by which we evaluate needs, capacities and impact and then make our funding decisions accordingly – is core to our organizational DNA. That over the course of nearly a century we have built a legacy of trust, investing in our community and raising and distributing funds with full transparency, accountability and integrity.

I should have told the donor that a gift to Federation CJA is unlike any other. That our agencies and other Jewish organizations do wonderful and important work that deserves our support, and that we respect their right and capacity to fundraise on their own.  But that a gift to Federation CJA – a gift to the collective – is unique because it’s the only one with the power to impact so many Jewish lives here at home, in Israel and throughout the Jewish world.  And I should have told her that Federation CJA was the only organization with the experience, resources and relationships to make that happen.

Well, I’m telling her now.

About the Author
Deborah Corber, LL.M. is the Chief Executive Officer of Federation CJA in Montréal.
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