As Hillel Jewish Student Center at Arizona State University prepares for "Summer Lovin'," this year's installment of its annual fundraiser, the campus group is working to adjust its fundraising to the challenges of a new philanthropic landscape.

The event, scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday, May 6, at the Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center fills a major piece in the financial puzzle for Hillel, according to Rachel Passon, president of Hillel at ASU.

"The majority of our income is from personal donations both large and small," she wrote in an email. "While some people respond throughout the year to our mailings and solicitations, the majority of donations come in during April and May through our annual fundraising/spring benefit efforts. Last year, we were pleased to raise around $100,000 through these efforts. We are not nearly there yet, but we hope to get close to that number again this year."

In an effort to connect with young adult supporters, the group is selling tickets at $50 to those 35 and younger. "This is a great opportunity for them to come and connect with Hillel again or for the first time," she wrote.

Hillel serves about 3,000 Jewish students at ASU, offering them a place to gather with other Jews, have Shabbat dinner and learn Jewish answers to life's perplexing questions, said Rabbi Barton Lee, ASU Hillel's executive director. Programming includes speakers of Jewish interest and High Holidays services, as well as Birthright Israel trips. Hillel's work also includes advocating for Jewish students on campus, whether in the face of anti-Semitism or in promoting students' involvement in tikkun olam efforts, he said.

"The problem with campus programming is (that) it's invisible to most of the community," he told Jewish News. "Hillel began here in an era when new Hillel units were created by communities rather than B'nai B'rith, which had been the main organizer of Hillel." B'nai B'rith was Hillel's national sponsor from 1924 to 1994. "Hillel is the community's gift to our college-age youth."

In fact, he added, "This Hillel was started by a federation initiative. It was community property."

Although the national Hillel foundation provides some services and program funding to local Hillel groups, "each Hillel is ultimately responsible for raising its own money," said Dennis M. Kirschbaum, the national foundation's associate vice president for campus services, during a phone interview from his Washington, D.C., office.

Like other Valley Jewish organizations, Hillel at ASU felt a double-whammy financial crunch over the past few years: the Great Recession and the changes in the funding model that Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix and its successor, the Jewish Community Association, have implemented in response to changing patterns in Jewish philanthropy.

For years, Hillel was a constituent agency of the federation and its allocations provided a major portion of its budget. The federation began in 2009 to change its focus from funding constituent agencies to funding programs from across the board in the Valley's Jewish community. This meant that the former constituent agencies would vie with other programs for grants from the annual Campaign for Jewish Needs, which is now conducted by the association. Although the federation provided funding to help former constituent agencies make the transition, Hillel has struggled to build its own fundraising capacity, Lee admitted.

"It's pretty hard to make up 40 percent of your budget, and we've been doing everything we know how to do," Lee told Jewish News. "We're not ungrateful for what's been allocated for this year, but it's a matter of grave concern."

For its part, the association has pledged to help Hillel improve its fundraising capacity, but so far the effort is in the discussion stage.

"We have met with Hillel board leadership to discuss their needs and how the association might be able to help," wrote Stuart Wachs, president and CEO of the association, in an email. "They have been very good conversations, and the association is dedicated to assisting Hillel in creating the best model to maximize their impact and create a financially sustainable model, including financial support from the association."

This marked the first year that the process to seek allocations from the Campaign for Jewish Needs was open to all comers in the community, and Hillel, which applied for $120,000, received $98,000. In 2011, it received $101,000 from the 2010 campaign funds.

In 2009 (the latest year for which comparable figures are available), roughly 44 percent of Hillel's total revenue came from a federation allocation. In its IRS return for that year, Hillel listed revenue from contributions, gifts and grants at $418,303. The federation allocated $197,000 to Hillel that year, nearly half of what was contributed to the campus group. Hillel listed its total revenue that year at $443,103, which included nearly $20,000 from service fees. Hillel's expenses that year included about $298,000 in salaries and benefits and nearly $67,000 in occupancy costs, such as utilities, rent and maintenance.

Lee is concerned that the current focus of distributing philanthropic funds is programming, saying that the support Hillel received from the association and from the Hillel's national organization is targeted to programs, but beyond programs, he said, "You've got to have people and pay for the electricity and have an infrastructure that makes the programs go."

In an email, Wachs wrote that, although the association's new model funds programs rather than agencies, "some overhead can be included in the operations of these programs. In addition, the programs do not have to be new. So regardless of how agencies may have been budgeting their former allocations from the federation, if they are now receiving a grant from the association for an existing program, the funds are still going into their operating budget."

Kirschbaum, of the national Hillel, sees the funding issue as a broader challenge to community purpose: "As we know, college is maybe not the last chance to engage young people Jewishly, but it's probably the best chance. ... If we want there to be a Jewish future then this is the investment point."

  • Details

  • What: Annual fundraiser
  • Who: Hillel at ASU
  • When: 6 p.m. Sunday, May 6
  • Where: Cutler-Plotkin Jewish Heritage Center, 122 E. Culver St., Phoenix
  • Tickets: $118, $50 under age 35
  • Register: hillelasu.org or 480-967-7563

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