Most of us want to see allocation numbers trending upward for the various Jewish agencies and schools to which the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix gives. Yet, especially after having gone through the worst economic turmoil in generations, we know that’s not always possible.

Belt-tightening at the federation began in earnest in 2009. The 2008 Campaign for Jewish Needs came in at $5.2 million, down from $6 million in 2007. The federation, however, funded local needs at $1.9 million, nearly the same amount as the previous year, “making up the difference by shrinking its own budget through a reduction in staff, a freeze on hiring, changes in employee benefits and the elimination of salary increases for the coming fiscal year,” as Jewish News reported in July 2009.

In a foretaste of what was to come, the 2009 campaign was said to be running behind 2008’s. In July 2009, with five months to go in the campaign, about $3.1 million had been raised “because a number of donors have asked us to speak to them later this year than they normally do,” said Adam Schwartz, the federation’s head at the time.

By November of 2010, the federation had gone through two major staff layoffs: cutting six people in March 2009 (about 30 percent of its workforce at the time) and then eight more were let go in October 2010 (more than 50 percent of the already reduced workforce).

The 2009 campaign raised $4.2 million, compared with $5.2 million raised in 2008. The 2007 campaign raised $6 million. (There is some question about these figures because they were reported in various iterations, the 2007 number was reported later as $6.5 million, and later reports had the 2008 number at $5.5 million and the 2009 number at $4.1 million. But the trend remains the same through the period, with about a $2 million decline in campaign donations in those years.)

Steve Gubin and Bob Silver, who were then board chair and first vice chair of the federation board, offered a stark evaluation of the situation (“Economic challenges accelerate need for Phoenix federation to reshape itself,” Jewish News, Nov. 19, 2010), writing, “At the beginning of the year, we projected that the 2010 campaign would not achieve 2009 levels. It became apparent as we entered the last three crucial months of the year that the situation was worse than expected.” They went on to say that the economic downturn had adversely affected donors, large and small, and that the downturn increased the impact of demographic changes on the base of donors: “It is reported that 90 percent of givers to federations nationally are over the age of 45 and that total donors nationwide are at around 450,000 compared with the all-time peak of 900,000. The realities of these two powerful trends are that they have made the federation a much different organization from what it was 10 years ago.”

The federation had been working for at least a year to develop a planning and funding process to meet changing needs in the community and to fund innovation, something that the old model of funding constituent agencies did not address in any significant way. Given the demographic and economic challenges it faced, the volunteers who believed in the federation and kept it going through the crunch were focused on updating the organization’s mission and goals so that they would be relevant to a new era. 

Interestingly, they forecast a “great reset” as many commentators called the new normal brought on by the recession: “We could no longer safely assume that our base campaign can achieve levels of $4.9 million to $5.5 million as it averaged prior to the recession and will be at a new base level that we have recently seen – $2.8 million to $3.5 million – from which we will build.”

In 2015, the campaign reached that $3.5 million amount in results, said Stuart Wachs, who heads the federation now. Since the intensely difficult situation in 2010, he said, “We’ve been allocating based on what we projected to raise.” The 2014 campaign, he said, had been projected to bring in $3.5 million, but brought in about $500,000 less, and the allocations were based on the projection not the results. So while 2016’s allocations of nearly $2.2 million are up only slightly from the $2.1 million in 2015, both year’s allocations are “based really on the same-sized campaign, because last year’s allocations were based on a projection of $3.5 (million), this year’s are based on a result of $3.5 (million),” he said. 

Interestingly, that’s right in line with the top end of what the federation leaders foresaw in 2010. The question remains: Can they, as promised, build from that? 

Need to Know is an occasional column that looks behind the headlines. Contact the writer at


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