Tightening the belt

How local organizations have navigated the recession
By Marshall Weiss The Dayton Jewish Observer

Doing more with less is a way of life in the nonprofit world. That was true before the greatest economic meltdown since the Great Depression hit, and the increased needs for help that came with it.

If the recession has proven bitter bondage, community organizations are learning how to make bricks without straw. Or at least with a smaller allotment.
The organizations hit the hardest were those that counted on their state-licensed bingo games for operating expenses.

“We, like a lot of other organizations, came to rely in the budgeting on bingo,” said Beth Abraham Synagogue President David Fuchsman. “And fortunately, for the past few years, up until last year, it worked out fine. But not anymore.”

Fuchsman said the drop-off began in the fall of 2008. In previous years, he said, bingo accounted for close to 20 percent of the synagogue’s operating budget. This year, however, he said, bingo is down by more than 50 percent, “a couple hundred thousand dollars.”

“And I think the silver lining in all this is not to abandon bingo and Texas hold’em and all the other things that we have around here, but to put yourself in a position where that ends up being the gravy and not the meat of your budget.”

Another hit to Beth Abraham and also to Beth Jacob Synagogue, Fuchsman said, is revenue from the Dayton Jewish School bingo.

“Keep in mind that although they’re separate entities, Beth Jacob as well as Beth Abraham are part of DJS, that has its own bingo. And so both synagogues were both getting help with their religious school programming through that, so it’s a two-fold hit.”

In a July letter urging congregants to increase their contributions, Beth Jacob Synagogue’s board of directors indicated that its bingo revenue has “significantly declined.”

Hillel Academy, Dayton’s Jewish day school, has also been hit by a decline in bingo revenue.

“We’re maybe 20 percent off,” said Hillel’s president, Dr. Adam Waldman. He added that the school’s annual solicitation for contributions is also down about 20 percent.

“We have more parents who are feeling the effects of their job loss or underemployment, and so the students need more aid,” he said.

“And then we have the double whammy that we have less contributions. We’ve always had significant scholarship need, but that has significantly increased.”

When Phyllis Hochman-Perri became president of the Dayton Chapter of Hadassah three years ago, the chapter was able to send $100,000 a year to Hadassah’s national office to support its medical and technical programs in Israel.

“And about 50 to 60 percent was from bingo,” she said. “Now, I don’t know if we’ll get $20,000 or $30,000 for the whole year.”

Turning the corner
Not surprisingly, all of the Dayton area’s Jewish organizations are now hyper-focused on ways to cut expenses and increase revenues.

Fuchsman said Beth Abraham has established a finance committee to recommend budget cutting measures to meet immediate needs, and in 2010 will launch a $10 million campaign: $9 million for an endowment to meet long-term needs, and $1 million for immediate needs.

Last year, Beth Abraham successfully completed its $7 million capital campaign to move to its new site in Oakwood.

“We’re not cutting any programs, we’re just watching it a little closer,” said Erv Pavlofsky, Beth Jacob’s president. “We’re concentrating on our fund-raising efforts, our membership dues and tzedakah pledges.”

Beth Jacob and Beth Abraham are also in early talks to explore a possible merger.

“We can in no way count on the merger happening,” Fuchsman said, “but you can’t ignore the fact that it’s out there also.”

“We’re just being really careful,” said Nancy Cohen, president of Temple Israel. “We’re lucky that our staff, even several years before the recession, were really looking at our expenditures and finding any ways that we could to cut.”

Temple Israel had one vacant part-time position in its office that it decided not to fill.

It has also cut its annual Clergy Institute, a decades-old project that brought together non-Jewish religious leaders from across the area to learn about a Jewish topic.

“It used to be several hundred clergy,” Cohen said. “In recent years, it’s been more like 20. It didn’t seem appropriate when we’re being careful.”

She said the congregation now offers more free programs, such as movie and game nights.
When the recession hit, Temple Beth Or was just wrapping up its capital campaign to renovate and expand its facilities.

“We were in a unique position because, perhaps at the worst time in our 25 years, we decided to build,” said Temple Beth Or President Myrna Nelson.

“We did not reach the millions that we wanted, but (of) the money we did reach, $1.7 million, the pledges are being paid,” Nelson said. Payments are coming in monthly, rather than at one time.

“The same thing with our dues,” Nelson said. “People are paying their dues monthly rather than all at once.”

According to Temple Beth Or’s treasurer, Bob Heuman, the capital campaign did chip away at this year’s High Holy Days appeal for operating support.

“We have a rainy day fund that can cover the deficits but we’ll have to make some kind of decision in the future here,” he said.

Dayton’s synagogues all report they’ve had few problems with dues collections and a few additional requests for membership fee reductions or tuition scholarships for their religious schools.

Beth Abraham Synagogue sent its dues letters out asking members to consider a higher amount. “A lot of people gave extra,” Fuchsman said.

“We didn’t cut back on any programs,” said Rabbi Nochum Mangel of Chabad of Greater Dayton. “That was because until Rosh Hashanah, our budget came in where we expected it to. Although there are some people who have to cut back (donations), there are others who were willing to add.”

Expanded social services at Federation
“We are financially in good shape, but in order to achieve that this year, it meant making some difficult, proactive decisions last year,” said Larry Skolnick, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton. With an annual budget of $8.5 million, the Federation’s agencies are the Dayton Jewish Community Center, Covenant House, and the Jewish Senior Service Agency. It also provides social service support to the Jewish community. The Federation’s major fund-raising arm is the annual United Jewish Campaign.

“Although our administrative overhead is only six percent to begin with,” Skolnick said, “at the end of last year, we went through all of our administrative and overhead expenses with a fine-tooth comb and cut where we could.”

This included the equivalent of three and a half positions: two were unfilled vacancies, one was a layoff.

“We had to go into the year with a balanced budget, taking into consideration an anticipated decrease in the annual campaign this year and in anticipation of a decrease in our corporate sponsorships and the grant money we have coming in.”

The Federation Foundation experienced a decline of 28 percent in 2008.

“That effected us significantly because we take a five percent disbursement on all of the funds annually,” Skolnick said.

State funds have also dried up, along with much of the outside grant funding previously available.

The Federation’s 2009 United Jewish Campaign is on target to meet its goal of $1.57 million versus $1.62 million in 2008.

More payments, however are coming in at year’s end than in previous years, Skolnick said.

“We’ve had to be a little bit more cognizant of cash flow than we typically are to make sure that we are aware of when we anticipate pledges to come in.”

This year, specific assistance requests to the Federation have been 50 percent higher than in previous years.

To date, the Federation’s food pantry has served three times those served in 2008. Requests for scholarship assistance to the DJCC preschool and summer camps, along with use of senior services, have increased significantly, Skolnick said.

The Federation received a federal grant through the economic stimulus package, to provide funds for specific assistance and for its food pantry, which also receives significant donations from area Jewish organizations.

“We have actually been very fortunate,” Skolnick said. “What I am hearing from colleagues in comparable-sized federations is that their campaigns have seen a much more significant decline in the last year than we have. Most of our major donors have maintained their gifts.”

The silver lining at Hillel Academy, Waldman says, is the commitment of its teachers and administrators to help the school make ends meet.

“They have made some significant sacrifices, going above and beyond what their usual job descriptions are,” he said.

“In the past, where our budget would allow it, we would have substitutes. Now, we’re just filling it all from within. If the janitor needed time off, rather than hire a substitute janitor, the teachers and administrators were doing some of the actual cleaning. That’s a big degree of dedication.”

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