Sunday, September 25, 2022

A recent report in The Washington Post disclosed that the federal government could save tens of billions of dollars each year by trimming duplicative programs such as the deployment of catfish inspections by three separate agencies and the use of an astounding 159 different contracted organizations that provide foreign-language support for the Defense Department. This according to a report from Congress’s auditing agency.

While I will let Congress resolve its own issues, I can’t stand by idly while the use of our own communal Kispei Kodesh are increasingly being called into question.

Our “Eight Towns” are blessed with many achievements—excellent schools, pillars of philanthropy, and a plethora of organizations serving every imaginable physical, educational, social and emotional need.

In a recent article in the Times of Israel, OHEL CEO (and my boss), David Mandel, posited that “in many instances a person in need has choices of goods and services. Yet in some sectors there may be too many agencies competing for the scarce dollar from government, foundations or individual donors. Scarce resources may result in hiring not fully-qualified or experienced professionals. Complex social problems require competent professional assessment and treatment.”

And herein lies the problem. For, while the subject of yeshiva tuition is commonplace at our Shabbat tables, drilling down one step further could easily result in the highly subjective evaluation of which organizations are fully necessary to sustain, and which may be better off shuttering or merging with others. Drill down even further, and the bedrock question becomes, “Who will tell such an organization to shutter or merge?”

By answering this last question first, we can begin the inevitable discussion.

I would aver that in the absence of the old world shtetl, with one Rav serving the town or one Vaad making communal decisions, it is left up to the donors or board members of each and every one of our communal organizations to do their own soul-searching, for we cannot continue down this path much longer.

The market must decide, and soon, which communal organizations will thrive, which will survive, and which should no longer exist. Community members and especially larger donors will play an expanded role in this decision more than ever before. Federation sustenance is waning, and donors are choosing “boutique giving,” offering their valuable time and dollars directly to an organization of their choice. More so, they are establishing their own private foundations and organizations in order to serve the Klal without truly understanding the marketplace, what it will bear in terms of service and support, and its future sustainability. The resulting effect is the dreaded duplication of services.

Many have stated that G-d has given us enough problems for there to be multiple organizations serving multiple or similar purposes. I am not of that school of thought. The deleterious effects of the recession of ’08 and ’09 have left a lasting psychological impact on our minds and our wallets.

If only the strong shall survive in a free market economy, the same must apply to our communal organizations vying for our Kispei Kodesh. If they are not up to the task, it is up to the community—the market—to vote with its volunteer time and dollars to say who should stay and should go, or merge. That message should be read—crystal clear—by responsible lay leadership and board members who have a fiduciary responsibility not just to their organizations but to the Klal.

Leadership needs to create more by considering less. And if that means that my own organization and livelihood is impacted, as the Chief Development Officer of a major Jewish social service agency, then so be it.

When I received my MBA in 1988, I went to work for the Jewish community out of a passion to help make our world a better place. Twenty-five years later, organizations that we all care about are struggling mightily, donations are down, psyches have been damaged.

It is time for serious introspection.

By Robert Katz

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