Jennifer Gorovitz's Speech at JCF's 2011 Annual Meeting

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” -Viktor Frankl, noted Austrian Holocaust Survivor and psychiatrist.

On June 16, we gathered as a community for "Our Common Thread", the JCF's 101st annual event, and honored and celebrated leaders and the common Jewish values that unite us. The text of JCF CEO Jennifer Gorovitz's speech is below.

Some of you know how fond I am of metaphors to describe where the Federation is in time and space. For the last year, I’ve talked about moving cars across the old bridge while building the new bridge; or even about changing the wheels on the bus on putting on a new coat of paint while the bus is moving 60 mph.

Well, I’ve got a new one. On Tuesday the San Francisco Chronicle detailed the dramatic first outing of the Oracle America’s Cup Team In frigid temperatures and 30-mile-an hour winds the team took its sleek catamaran out into San Francisco’s tumultuous Bay for the first time. It looked really awesome when it sped by my office window! This America’s Cup, the reporter wrote “will not be your father’s or your great-grandfather’s race.” It will come with “more speed, more risks and more danger.” As if to make that point – the team flipped one of its boats – a dramatic “scuttling” that made the newspapers and remains a featured video on SFGate.

The message the team is sending is that big change -- in this case the total transformation of the race -- means some risk, but also huge reward. While the crew may be in uncharted waters, what they have going for them is experience, teamwork, balance and grace. With those, they will master the course before them. I dare say that we, the Federation, are also in somewhat uncharted waters as we continue to take significant steps to keep our balance, to be flexible, responsive, focused and impact oriented, while transforming dramatically. We have 100 years of history and tradition to build on, while now operating in an environment where things change by the hour.

One year ago today I stood before you, a newly minted CEO of a venerable, century-old organization that has helped build Jewish life as we know it in the Bay Area. At that meeting I acknowledged our first 100 years, while at the same time committing to change significantly both in the short term and for the long term to ensure that Federation remains a catalyst for philanthropy, volunteerism and leadership of the local Jewish community, Israel and Jews in need around the world. I promised you that the 2010 – 2011 fiscal year, which ends in just two weeks on June 30th, would include, in addition to a truly exceptional day-long celebration to mark our Centennial and an array of firsts – both accomplishments and strategic planning – which would re-invigorate and re-invent the Federation.

We have done all of that! With the help of committed, caring, enthusiastic volunteers who believe deeply in the cause of the Jewish people and of power for good of this catalyzing convening body. In the past year, our accomplishments have been both internal and external; for we cannot have the significant impact we seek without the internal discipline, focus and technology to support it. I am proud to call out 8 of them though there are many more:


  1. We have streamlined, focused and become more efficient, Instituting operating cost savings of more than $5mm, And, We have launched a Global IT project that will transform the internal operations of the Federation. We are continuing on a path of integrating our development and allocations functions so that both donors and our agencies will have better access and clearer understanding of all that we do.
  2. We have launched venture philanthropy for the dual benefits of engagement and impact:  Launched and completed our first Impact Grant Initiative Round, an engaging and empowering approach to grantmaking, modeled on highly successful, social venture philanthropy. IGI provides volunteers with a “hands-on” way to make a real difference in our community by making high impact grants that focus on a pressing community need. This grant round focused on providing innovative Jewish projects with the multi-year funding they need to be successful, as well as nonfinancial capacity building support they need to thrive, through our partnership with UpStart.
  3. We have served our community to build the org capacity of others:  Launched and implemented the Community Legacy Project. CLP is a partnership between the JCF and 17 of our community’s agencies, schools and synagogues. A results-oriented two year training program, CLP provides agency and synagogue lay and professional leadership with the skills they need to secure bequests and other planned gifts. The gifts will build endowments for our community’s institutions and help secure their future, which secures the future of us all.
  4. We have measurably enhanced Israel engagement:  We reduced our Bay Area’s birthright waitlist by sending 796 kids to Israel this year, through a 2 to 1 matching grant of JJF, more than double the number of kids we could send last year, and I’m thrilled to announce has just been renewed as a challenge grant for the coming year.  I am also delighted to recognize Bob Aaronson, who is with us today.  Bob is the leader of the Birthright Israel Foundation and one of us – he was the CEO of the Detroit Federation for 20 years, where he mentored our President-elect Nancy Grand.  Welcome, Bob.
  5. We threw a couple of huge parties  -- this year’s Israel in Gardens, that emphasized the Federation’s impact and young adult work like never before, and brought our entire community together to celebrate Israel’s achievements and our community resources.  The before-party, the after-party and the entire day were brimming with young adults excited to be involved. And just a couple of months ago, we planned and executed the largest and most successful community event in our history.  Fedfest brought out 1,000 donors, with an exceptional line-up of speakers to celebrate the contributions of the Jewish community to arts, culture, entertainment, media, politics and more.
  6. Our Story – while public perception always lags reality, the numbers behind Our Annual Campaign and Endowment tell a wonderful story despite the impact of demographic and economic trends:  We Recovered 900 formerly lapsed donors; Acquired 220 new donors; Resulting in nearly one million dollars of funding for grants; More than 1300 donors increased their annual campaign gifts on average of 23% number of new donor advised funds and $12.5 million in funding newly available for grants, More than 26 testamentary gifts or bequests to the endowment, resulting in more than $3.8 million of additions to the endowment fund for emergencies, seed funding and capital grants. Overall, more than $133 million of grants were made by and through the help of the Federation to the Jewish and broader communities in the past year, involving more than 900 individual grant makers and numerous Federation volunteers.
  7. We are emphasizing young adult engagement like never before, thanks to the push received by Richard Goldman and the Goldman Fund beginning three years ago and by special memorial gifts made in his honor:  We Launched an integrated department of young adult engagement, in which broad outreach, cultivation and leadership are emphasized and coordinated like never before – involving almost 1,000 young adults in a variety of activities just this year alone.  This year, we sent the 2nd-largest contingent in the nation to the national Jewish young adult conference and the largest contingent in the nation on a national young adult trip to Israel this summer, which will commandeer their bus and send them to visit and be inspired by our Federation’s projects.
  8. Developing Leaders:  we are developing young leaders here, in Hungary and in Israel – there, on the largest scale of any leadership program in the country.

In other words we excelled at what we are uniquely positioned to do as a community-wide resource:

  • Investing: by allocating resources so that our youngest and our oldest have quality Jewish experiences and many doorways open to them
  • Leading: by Developing the next generation of jewish leaders through our teen foundations, yff, Givanim
  • Serving: by organizing and supporting our community through the CLP and our pro-bono teams like Capital Planning

The Federation has actively promoted the values of Jewish giving and leading like never before. This is our charge. For the sake of Jewish life itself, for community, and for the sake of every agency, every innovator, every synagogue and school, we need to actively develop the philanthropists and leaders of tomorrow . I urge you to stand with us and unite behind this goal. We have much more work to do to re-invigoriate and re-invent the Fedation, to build Jewish life, leadership and philanthropy while mastering the uncharted waters ahead. In the coming months we will announce far-reaching changes to the Federation designed to address

  • A still struggling economy;
  • An aging major donor population; And
  • Younger audiences who approach life and philanthropy from a more individualized and impact driven perspective

Moving forward, the Federation will play three focused roles:

  • Investing strategically for impact
  • Building the capacity of any and all of our Jewish orgs
  • Developing the next generation of Jewish philanthropists and leaders for the benefit of the entire community’s sustainability

These will be the hallmarks of the Federation – and with your help, we will build a holistic community foundation, a true 21st century organization that drives Jewish progress and promotes, elevates and sustains our core Jewish values of tzedakah, tikkun olam and kehillah. An organization that helps ensure the overall health, strength, security and continuity of the Jewish ecosystem; one that seeks to organize, collaborate and partner with agencies, schools and synagogues to ensure that we have a supportive and successful community. One that inspires the community to collaborate as a whole to deliver enrichment, essential Jewish values and teaching, social justice, and a strong sense of the collective.

Our investments will be big and bold. For example, we will launch the first in the nation City of Jewish Service in the coming year to take experiential Jewish learning of core Jewish values to a new and much higher level for our young people and our babyboomers alike. We are also exploring a partnership with Israelis in which this Federation would lead a tikkun olam project for international development on a large scale. And, we are in the process of building two revolutionary digital platforms in Jewish life that will support volunteer service and will drive the charitable marketplace to unfunded Jewish projects. In this way, we will reach thousands of people quickly, nimbly and easily with inspiring ways for community connection and involvement.

There is nothing ahead that we, united, cannot attend to. But the key word is United. We in the Jewish community are not and certainly don’t want to become a region of atomized, balkanized pieces. We must stand together as a People who in unity are much greater than the sum of our parts. The Federation is here to help – this is why we were founded and we need to return to these essential principles. We have to think bigger and go farther than we have in decades to help our community as a whole to advance. I’d like to close with a quote that I think encapsulates my thinking for the year ahead from Viktor Frankl, the noted Austrian Holocaust Survivor and psychiatrist, who said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

- Thank You

See pictures and highlights, or watch the animated video that premiered at the event.

Categories: Events


June 30, 2011


The Federation