Perspectives by Deborah Corber, CEO

Edition 6,  April 9, 2015

Federation as a Business or the Business of Federation Part II: Volunteers

Deborah CorberI grew up in a hyper-connected “community family”. I remember countless meals without my father, who was invariably at an AJCS meeting of one sort or another (Allied Jewish Community Services was the precursor to Federation CJA). Having Dad home for dinner on a weeknight often felt like an exception to the rule, although Friday nights were always inviolable. There were altogether too many acronyms to remember for the various bodies he seemed to inhabit. And there were endless people from Dad’s “community family” to be introduced to, though I never did understand why he described them as either “lay” or “professional”.

Several times a year my parents would drive my brother, Michael, and me down the narrow streets of the Plateau, pointing out that the children who lived there didn’t have back yards to play in, or many other advantages that we took for granted. This was the conversation about the responsibility to give back – something that Michael and I have taken to heart, having each served in a range of volunteer and lay leadership positions since young adulthood.

And yet, I never fully realized – until I began working at Federation CJA – the depth and breadth of volunteerism in our Jewish community. Here is what I have come to know and appreciate since I began as CEO less than four years ago..

Federation CJA has no equal in terms of volunteer contribution. We enjoy the support, time, energy, expertise and commitment of over 2,000 volunteers. The work that they do – and make no mistake about it, our volunteers constitute an unpaid workforce – and the contribution that they make, is unparalleled in the organizational world.

What other organization relies on volunteers to raise revenue? We count on over 700 volunteers every year to canvass their family, friends, business associates and peers in our annual campaign. We rely on volunteer business people who use their networks of suppliers, clients and service providers to secure corporate sponsorships that keep the costs of running our annual campaign down. These volunteers are a virtual sales force, bringing in millions of dollars of campaign revenue that go directly to our top line, and $1.2 million in sponsorships that go directly to our bottom line.

What other organization relies on volunteers – women, men, young and not-so-young – to plan and host events, to develop, lead and implement programs and initiatives, to box lunches, serve and deliver meals to the vulnerable, to run clothing drives, to lead Passover Seders for community members with special needs? These volunteers provide R&D, keep costs down (bottom line) and by engaging other volunteers, deepen our market share – which ultimately serves to strengthen our top line.

What other organization can tap into a reservoir of professional and business expertise free of charge? Whether it’s providing legal advice (corporate, commercial, immigration, real estate, human resources, litigation, advocacy – the list goes on) on a pro bono basis, sitting on a budget and finance or audit committee to ensure that we follow best practices in financial management, planning a marketing strategy, or vetting proposals for a new donor database or HVAC system, these volunteers keep our product top quality, while keeping down the cost of doing business (bottom line).

And finally, what other organization can rely on hundreds of volunteers to spend hours deliberating and advising, adding value to every important decision we make about:
  • raising and allocating funds;
  • caring for the needs of today while charting a strategic course for tomorrow;
  • advancing our communal interests;
  • fulfilling our communal responsibilities to the Jewish people at home, in Israel and throughout the Diaspora; and
  • meeting our fiduciary obligations and running our organization – as our donors expect us to do – to the highest possible standards.

Some volunteers assume key leadership roles, taking on a commitment so onerous that it can amount, in essence, to a second career.

What is the monetary value of this volunteer service? We’ve never tried to quantify it scientifically, but we know that it translates to literally millions of dollars. That represents a value that exponentially increases our ability to do good.

And the non-monetary value our volunteers contribute to the enterprise of building, nurturing and sustaining community is, quite simply…priceless.

With National Volunteer Week around the corner, there is no better time to recognize, to salute and to thank our most precious resource, our volunteers: the people who give of themselves for the betterment of our Jewish community, and in doing so, contribute to our top line, our bottom line and every line in between.

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