Where Should Federations’ Money Go?
Tue, 11/13/2012
Staff Writer
Donald Butler: Philanthropists are showing a greater interest in how their money is being spent. getty images
Donald Butler: Philanthropists are showing a greater interest in how their money is being spent. getty images

David Butler became chairman last November of the Global Planning Table committee of the Jewish Federation of North America. It was created last fall to allow the North American Jewish community to collectively assess how its 150 federations and partners can most efficiently spend the money they raise.
Butler, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Bingham McCutchen who has been active in commercial litigation and trial practice, is the longtime council for Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and special litigation counsel to the Orthodox Union.

Jewish Week: How do you see the committee’s mission?
David Butler: It is to assess global Jewish needs in an organized fashion for the federation system. The Global Planning Table — GPT — committee is the entity that has been engaged for almost a year in an analysis of needs of the global Jewish community. We are looking into different areas to gain an understanding so we can direct the resources of the 150 some federations in North America to distribute [money] for the benefit of the Jewish world. We are looking to see how to best address the needs and make the most impact with our finite amount of dollars. This is a deliberative process we are involved in. We are working through a plan that will enable us to come up with concrete recommendations of where to allocate our resources in the coming year.

How long is this process expected to take?It is not anticipated that final recommendations will be completed for some time. We want to create commissions that will do a deep dive into the issues and then come up with recommendations. … I would hope you would see some activity in 2013. The GPT committee will make recommendations to the partnership committee that decides on the actual dollar allocations.

What was the impetus for this new allocation approach?
In the philanthropic world donors are showing significant interest in how their dollars are being used. Historically, people just gave to an organization and said we trust you to spend the money as you wish.

When did this change begin to happen?In the last decade or two. A donor will say he still trusts us, but since a significant donor wants a more active voice — and federations are seeing this — the GPT is a chance for federations to become more actively involved in the designation of how their money is spent. Our historic partners — the American Jewish Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel — are involved and participate in the studies and analysis. This is a collaborative effort and our partners have been actively involved and cooperated with us.

How many commissions do you envision?
There are likely to be several commissions over time — probably fewer than a half-dozen — and not all are expected to start at the same time. Members will be comprised of some members of the GPT, representatives of the two partners, our staff, experts in the fields of each commission’s activity, representatives of donor groups and young leadership. We are talking about 30 or so people. And they will work through problems together and make recommendations together.

I understand some of the commission topics have already been chosen.There are four categories the GPT decided we wanted to analyze regarding global Jewish needs. The former Soviet Union is a good example of overlapping interests. The intention is not to get everything to fit in a neat category.

Traditionally, there has been a 70-30 split each year of the overseas money federations raise, with 70 percent going to the Jewish Agency for Israel and 30 percent to the JDC. What is happening this year?

The partnership committee was not in a position to address allocations more comprehensively because the GPT did not come up with recommendations and therefore voted to maintain the approach for another year. No matter what people thought would occur this year, the partnership committee was not able to do that analysis. So it took the wise decision to retain what we have now and give the process another year so we will be able to make a rational and informed judgment in the coming year.

What is the next step?
The partnership committee is responsible for allocation decisions; the GPT committee is responsible for analysis, development and recommendations. This week at the General Assembly in Baltimore we will be reporting to the board of trustees about what we are and how we plan move ahead. We hope to get an endorsement of that approach.

Will all of the money raised by the federations then be allocated according to this approach?The vast majority of the $182 million raised has already been allocated for core programs.

In what areas has the GPT worked to develop this past year?
They have worked on outlining high-impact, high-priority areas that will begin work early next year. The areas will be to strengthen Israel, develop leadership and community, care for the most vulnerable and strengthen Jewish identity and peoplehood. … I’m pretty encouraged that we have gotten to where we are. We have done pretty well thus far and hopefully the board will endorse our plan.