Shep Englander — Federation Journal
The Real Test: Jewish Federation Steps Up to Challenge of Extraordinary Times
“I feel like this moment is the real test—how we treat each other and those in need when they need us most,” said the incoming President of the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, Debbie Brant, last week, at her first board meeting as president.
Federation CEO Shep Englander, concurred, saying: “We can’t continue business as usual. Our mission remains to strengthen Cincinnati’s Jewish community, but how we do it during this pandemic has had to change dramatically.”
For the first time in its 124-year history, the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati held its annual meeting (and board meeting) by Zoom call last week. Limited because of COVID-19 to outgoing and incoming board members, the 2020 annual meeting was a clarion call to action to combat the challenges brought about by the pandemic.
It is clear that the Federation has changed dramatically in the last three months to better accomplish its mission. For example, the Federation quickly revised its budget for this year to create a crisis budget. It sacrificed four open positions, as well as many popular programs and events. It then put that money into the Annual Campaign. Its staff has been working especially hard during this crisis, but safely and remotely since March 13.
The Federation has also coordinated the community’s response to this crisis. The most dramatic example is its creation of the Cincinnati Jewish Community SAFE Reopen Group. Comprised of 43 members from across virtually all Jewish organizations in Cincinnati, the group is coordinating the safe reopening of Jewish facilities, schools, and congregations. The group has digested, summarized, and shared the complex regulations and risks for reopening various facilities and programs both locally and with other Federations nationally.
This group has been so successful because of advance planning. With funding from The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati, the Federation hired a SAFE Cincinnati Director six years ago to work on community security. At the same time, Federation created a SAFE Cincinnati working group. Until COVID-19, the focus was mainly on the threat of violence; in the current crisis, SAFE Cincinnati was able to step up quickly to lead the SAFE Reopen Group.
The Federation also coordinated with other agencies to create the new Jewish community COVID -19 Hotline.
In addition, Federation’s Shared Business Services (SBS) division coordinated 17 organizations applying for and receiving PPP loans instituted by the CARES Act, for $4.6 million. Without SBS, the Cincinnati Jewish community would have certainly had less success in applying for these loans. The Jewish Community Relations Council (a part of Federation) also helped by advocating for state and federal relief for the Jewish community and nonprofits in general.
In line with its funding mission, Federation has allowed changes in the carefully limited way its dollars can be spent by its recipient agencies, so that those agencies can use those dollars in the best way for them, given the current shutdowns and reorganizations.
Efficient long-term planning for the community is an ongoing strength the Federation will carry forward. For example, before the 2008-10 Great Recession, the Federation switched from allocating contributions from the current year to the following year. This allowed the Federation to anticipate lean years, and build a reserve that ameliorated the effects of the Great Recession on revenue. When the economy improved, the Federation rebuilt the reserve, so that it is now in a position to ameliorate to some extent the effects of the current crisis.
Englander highlighted the planning work that ends up leading to success across the community. “We are sketching out combinations of best and worst case scenarios, for the next two years, on three levels—public health, the economy, and societal norms (e.g. when will we feel comfortable gathering in large groups). The Federation has also started engaging with our community organizations about how to adapt to these scenarios.”
“We are fully focused on helping our community members survive the crisis,” concluded Englander.
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