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UJF accelerates ’09 campaign to make up for commitment lag
by Lee Chottiner
Executive Editor
Mar 18, 2009 | 1949 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
With the number of committed donors to its Community Campaign lagging “significantly” behind last year’s mark, the United Jewish Federation is trying something different to make up the difference.

Well, not different really, but certainly more intense.

The UJF announced last week that it is launching an “accelerated fundraising effort” for the balance of 2009 Community Campaign. The drive will run from March 17 through April 2, on 11 selected dates — both day and night — when volunteers will make calls to prospective givers.

The effort is similar to the annual UJF Fund Fest, which strives to raise as much money as possible through phone solicitations in a short period of time.

There is no set fundraising goal for the drive.

According to a UJF statement, that commitment figure is “lagging significantly in the pace of commitments compared to the same period last year, raising concerns by community leaders.”

Specifically, the campaign is down by about 700 commitments from the same period last year, according to UJF President Jeffrey Finkelstein.

“We’re hoping we can build some excitement in the community,” Finkelstein said. “We want to get people excited about this campaign. We need a real push right now to get that pace going to close the campaign, and were trying to do it in a condensed fashion.”

Despite the drop in actual commitments, Finkelstein noted the campaign is actually up slightly this year.

“There’s a positive in that our campaign is up,” he said. “It’s not a lot, but it’s up 1 percent on a person per person basis. That means if you take the commitment share [for an individual] for 2009 and compare two the same exact commitments we got last year.”

As of now, the 2009 campaign stands at $9.4 million — more than 75 percent to this year’s stated campaign goal of $12.85 million.

“There’s no sense of panic,” said campaign Chair Ted Goldberg. Pittsburgh has been a very good community supporting those in need, but we do have to try harder at this point in time.”

But the UJF needs to know approximately how much money it will have in hand before it begins making its disbursements for the coming year, he added.

“The process by which we project the amount of money that will be available over the next fiscal year for all the [beneficiary agencies] has to be concluded by June 30, so it really begins in earnest in April or May,” Goldberg said. “We really need to get a good handle on the kind of commitments we’re going to have.”

Despite the lag in commitments, the UJF appears to be outperforming most federations in North America — large and small — Finkelstein said. “I think you’ll see we’re doing, luckily, much better than our peer groups — federations in general.”

In real dollars, giving to 2009 campaigns across the United States stands at P – $451.4 million, down from $468.3 million, according to the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella arm of the federations.

If the contributions are measured in gift-to-gift terms — how much each giver gave from one year to the next — total pledges to federations in the United States are down 3.6 percent. On a date-to-date comparison, they’re down 16.8 percent.

Eric Levine, senior vice president of development at the UJC does expect more givers to come forward in the final weeks of the campaigns, though he warned that 2009 would be a down year nationwide.

“It would be wonderful if some Purim- or Chanuka-style miracle would pull us out of this,” he said, (but) most reports from federations are indicating we’ll be down across the board.”

He offered a ray of hope, though, noting that studies show that giving tends to rebound following recessionary periods, even surpassing the last up year before the downturn.

“We’re still holding our breaths,” Levine said.

He attributes that to the type of community in Pittsburgh, successfully communicating of the needs and softer recessionary impact in Pittsburgh than elsewhere.

“The economy in Pittsburgh has been impacted, but it has not been hurt as bad as other places like New York City or Palm Beach, which had a big impact from Madoff,” Finkelstein said.

Local annual campaigns have been up every year since 1996, when the UJF raised 9 million. They have exceeded their goals every year since 1997.

But the needs remain great, Goldberg said. That includes the projects and agencies the UJF supports in Israel.

“In Israel, with the uncertainty caused by the Gaza problems, supplemental care and services have been required on a pretty large scale,” he said.

I hope the community will continue to support those needs (in Pittsburgh and Israel) as they have in the past,” he added.

(Lee Chottiner can be reached at leec@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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