July 21, 2016; Haaretz
A new fundraising effort being instituted by The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) may place it on a collision course with the larger and more established network of North American Jewish Federations for the hearts and financial support of major Jewish donors. If the IFCJ’s initial goal of raising $18 million is just the beginning of a much larger effort, the long-established U.S. and Canadian Jewish federation fundraising system may be in for a tumultuous period.
IFCJ was formed in 1983 to “to promote understanding and cooperation between Jews and Christians and to build broad support for Israel and other shared concerns.” Over the years, these “other shared concerns” have been defined by a set of programs serving Holocaust survivors, the poor, the elderly, Israeli soldiers, and those desiring to immigrate to Israel (“make aliyah”). When ICFJ initiatives overlapped with extensive and long-standing efforts of Jewish federations, by confining its fundraising to the Evangelical community, ICFJ avoided conflict with the larger federation system.
IFCJ was quite successful in building its philanthropic base; by 2015, their annual campaign had reached $135 million annually, and they did so by focusing on small donors—their average donation was less than $100. But now, the organization says it is planning to widen development efforts and begin raising funds within the Jewish community. According to IFCJ’s CEO, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the organization will break with its traditional small donor focus and “will be aiming for much bigger contributions,” a strategy that may have them soliciting donors who have been major supporters of their local federation.
For the 300 NAJF communities that raise over $900 million annually and distribute an additional $2 billion from the endowments and donor-advised funds they manage, an $18 million effort might seem insignificant. But IFCJ’s recent history in Israel has shown them to be willing to break long-standing relationships and go head-to-head with powerful and long-established organizations.
After years of working cooperatively with the Jewish Agency, the quasi-governmental organization responsible for the settling new immigrants in Israel, IFCJ broke away and began to operate independently, using funds it had previously contributed to the Agency. The relationship between the former allies has become openly testy. The schism had roots in conflicts over strategy and priorities between the two organizations. Back in 2014, a former Jewish Agency employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity summed up the current situation by saying,
At one time the Jewish Agency was the only game in town when aliyah was involved, but it has become increasingly clear that the lion’s share of their assets are going to other priorities. Many have speculated that the organization has become feckless and that they may have to step aside in order to allow other groups to fill the vacuum.
IFCJ saw the vacuum as an opportunity and was willing to aggressively move in.
In the middle of efforts to rescue Jews caught up in battles flaring in the Ukraine, JA staff described ICJF’s program as harming the immigrants. ICJF directly competed with the Jewish Agency and publicly asserted the superiority of their programs. Where there had once been a common perspective in the pro-Israel community, there was now an open struggle between the former partners.
Will ICJF’s new fundraising strategy show the same competitive spirit? It would seem so. Rabbi Eckstein was direct in his critique of the current situation in comments he shared with the Israeli daily, Haaretz.
We’ve reached a situation today where the traditional Jewish institutions are not able to meet the needs of the Jewish population. The irony is that on the one hand, you have the wealthiest Jewish community in the world in the United States today, but on the other hand, you have Holocaust survivors among us who have to decide whether to use their little bit of money for food or for heating. This is a disgrace to the Jewish world.
How the Federation movement sees this challenge and how they will respond is unknown, as they have not responded to our request for a comment.—Martin Levine