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A Gallup poll study is hardly necessary to conclude that the performance of the Jewish Community Association (JCA) and the local Jewish Federation before it has made the Greater Phoenix Jewish Community one of the most underperforming Jewish communities in the nation. Even without hard data it would be difficult to find any knowledgeable and engaged Jew in the area who would contradict the premise that the JCA’s fundraising ability as reflected in its annual Campaign for Jewish Needs is embarrassingly meager. And as a result of such shameful results the JCA’s financial support of critically important and unmet community needs has been nothing short of pauperous and misery.

But despite what most knowledgeable people have intuited to be a failed fundraising machine for decades it should not be left to conjecture and assumption to indict the lay and professional leaders of the JCA for their shameful performance as fundraisers. That indictment deserves to be supported by facts and analysis by an irrefutable source… data that the local JCA itself has provided to an authoritative national study published by the North American Jewish Data Bank in cooperation with the JCA’s own umbrella organization, the Jewish Federations of North America.

A November 2013 study Comparisons of Jewish Communities – A Compendium of Tables and Bar Charts was prepared by the very distinguished Dr. Ira Sheskin, Director of the Jewish Demography Project at the University of Miami. The study contains comparative data on virtually every aspect of American Jewish demographics and behaviors in a 36 chapter report. But the one chapter that analyzes the relative fundraising performance of Federation study participants is found in Section 29 Donations to Jewish Federations. And the data is both revealing and chilling regarding the Greater Phoenix Jewish community. Data that the JCA has understandably been eager to keep out of public view. And data that JCA leaders are constantly trying to dodge and excuse as not relevant. When it comes to this data and its implications the JCA has done more spinning of this data than a school full of children with Hanukah dreidels.

According to the introduction of the report: “The compendium is a single source of tables and bar charts designed to provide a comparative context for understanding American Jewish communities. It is intended for local Jewish communities seeking to compare themselves to others as well as for researchers, teachers and students of North American Jewry. In short, it is an invaluable tool that is based on self-reported data by local Federations.”­­

The entire 67-page Section 29 Donations to Jewish Federations can be found online at: https://tinyurl.com/nbp6j77 . Here are just a few highlights, or perhaps it is better to describe them as lowlights from this important benchmark study.

  • Phoenix ranks 48 out of 54 participating communities when measuring the number of households who donated to the local Jewish Federation in the last reporting year. Phoenix reports that only 25% of Jewish households donated to the JCA while eight cities report that between 50% to 61% of their households donated.
  • 71% of Jewish households in the Phoenix area do not contribute to ANY Jewish Federation which explodes the myth that many Phoenix Jews give to Federations in cities where they have a second home or where they emigrated from. Of the 34 communities reporting in this area only two cities (Las Vegas and Seattle) had a worse performance.
  • Of 44 communities reporting the number of Jewish households which do not support ANY Jewish charity, Phoenix reports that 49% of its community falls into the group that do not support any Jewish charity. Only four communities report a worse percentage of support for Jewish charities.
  • Perhaps one of the most shameful statistics is the average gift per total Jewish households in a community to its local Federation campaign. Phoenix ranked 50 out of 53 reporting cities with the average gift per household at an appalling $65. The ten Federations with the largest average household gift to their campaign are: Detroit $968; Tidewater (VA) $778; Charlotte $753; Minneapolis $731; Cleveland $716; Baltimore $617; Pittsburgh $613; Milwaukee $599; Richmond $582; Columbus $561. Tucson reports an average gift per Jewish household of $254.
  • A related piece of data shows the number of households and the total size of the Federation campaign in each community. In this chart Phoenix reports 44,000 households and a campaign total of $2,863,000. The cities with the closest number of households and their campaign totals are: Denver 47,500 households and $6,040,000; San Diego 46,000 households and $6,135,000; Essex-Morris (NJ) 44,500 households and $19,684,000; Baltimore 42,500 households and $26,241,000; Cleveland 38,300 households and $27,411,000; Detroit 30,000 households and $29,051,000; Miami 54,000 households and $21,695,000.
  • Communities with a much smaller number of Jewish households but with relatively remarkable robust annual Federation campaign totals include: Tidewater (VA) 5,400 households and $4,202,000; Charlotte 4,000 households and $3,013,00; Minneapolis 13,850 households and $10,131,000; Pittsburgh 20,900 households and $12,805,000; Milwaukee $10,400 households and $$6,232,000; Richmond 5,000 households and $$2,946,000; Columbus 11,878 households and $$6,658,000; Lehigh Valley (PA) 4,000 households and $2,176,000; St. Paul 4,700 households and $2,278,000; San Antonio 4,500 households and $1,883,000; Cincinnati 12,500 households and $5,111,000; Rochester 10,230 and $4,133,000; St. Louis 24,600 and $9,288,000; Jacksonville 6,700 and $2,327,000; Hartford 14,800 households and $4,684,000; New Haven 11,000 and $2,906,000; Seattle 22,490 households and $4,907,000 and Tucson 13,400 households and $3,400,000.
  • One of the charts in which Phoenix is notably absent measures “Familiarity with the Local Federation”. 37 communities responded with a range of 20% to 60% of local Jewish households reporting that they are not at all aware of the Federation. The fact that Phoenix didn’t report indicates that the local JCA is completely out of touch with what the broader Jewish population in the Valley thinks about the JCA or if they even know it exists.
  • And the last piece of data that speaks volumes about the disastrous market condition of the local JCA is the chart that measures the “Perception of the Local Federation”. In this chart, 34 communities report a range of 93% to 68% of local households that regard their perception of the Federation as Excellent or Good. And once again, the Phoenix JCA did not report leaving one to conclude that they are clueless as to the qualitative perceptions of their local community about their organization.

There is considerably more data available in this study but in no case does Phoenix ever report statistics that are exemplary or commendable. And there are at least 100 other Federation communities which did not even participate in the analysis so it is difficult to say how Phoenix would compare if the report was complete and comprehensive.

What can be concluded from this is that the JCA, and the Federation before it, have been woefully underperforming organizations in the past, they continue to show their inability to motivate and engage the community today and it is highly unlikely that they will be able to engender sufficient trust and confidence to lead Phoenix to become a high performing Jewish community in the future. The only thing that might change the JCA’s failing trajectory is to eliminate it completely, let the dust settle, and convene as a community to take stock in what the best way forward might be to create a vibrant and thriving Jewish community.