SIMON JOHNSON

If we do not cut costs, charities will pack up

THIS will be the last Jewish Telegraph column that I write as chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council.

I step down from the role I have held for nearly seven years next Friday, and will then become a consultant to the JLC until the end of the year.

Rather than engage in a self- serving retrospective of my time, I thought it would be useful to give my view of the fundamental changes that we are on the brink of. As I step down, it will be for my successors to deal with them.

The first issue is the financial sustainability of the community and the long-term impact of the Covid-19 virus.

There is no question that there are fundamental shifts upon us. Having discussed for seven years the need for the community to think about rationalisation, collaboration and cost reductions, the Covid crisis is forcing this upon our community organisations.

For while the economy may recover in the long term, the damage to our community financial model may already have been done.

There is less money around. Charitable and family foundations have seen the value of their assets crash by up to 30 per cent if they were invested, potentially resulting in less being available for distribution.

Philanthropists have seen their businesses suffer and those who make their charitable donations out of business cashflows are finding that their ability to give is severely restricted. Smaller donors are, of course, suffering from reduced income, furlough or even redundancy.

Charitable income is under pressure like never before.

Already, charities are taking a more co-ordinated approach to income raising. Priority has been given to charities on the front line of providing care and other charities have stepped back to allow these to appeal to the community.

Charities have launched joint appeals, some have co-ordinated the timing of their appeals and some have postponed their main fundraising efforts.

For the first time, we are trying a form of “federated” giving, where funds are raised on behalf of — and distributed to — a group of charities.

The JLC has established a Social Care Assistance Fund, of about £2 million at present, raised from a series of individual philanthropists and charitable foundations.

A group of more than 20 charities will apply for such funds which will be distributed according a set of criteria by a review committee. This is the first UK equivalent of the federations common in America and elsewhere.

For the first time, chief executives of charities are openly discussing whether federated fundraising is the way forward.

We are discussing creating smaller federations of charities with similar missions and raising funds jointly for them.

This represents a fundamental shift in attitudes to fundraising, but the current circumstances oblige us to think that way.

And charities have to think about how to reduce their costs and become more efficient.

I have been saying this for years, but the current crisis has forced it upon our sector.

Unless we fundamentally reduce our cost base, many charities will have to cease to operate. It is as stark as that.

The second fundamental change relates to our community’s attitude to — and relationship with — Israel. It is poised over the coming weeks to come under pressure and to undertake a deep and lasting shift.

The trigger activity will be if the Israeli government follows through on its intention to annex areas of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank. But even without the policy being activated, it is already sowing division within the activist base of our community.

Organisations such as Yachad and others further to the left of the Zionist community have put pressure on the Board of Deputies to condemn the potential annexation. Organisations like UJIA are under pressure to take a position.

Politicians — especially from the pro-Palestinian groups within the Labour Party — have crafted motions condemning Israel. We have already begun to see calls for Israel to be sanctioned internationally if it proceeds with this policy.

The pro-Israel and Zionist organisations will face a new threat and challenge from the pro-Palestinian activists.

Because the proposed annexation appears to fatally undermine the Oslo Accords and weaken the possibility of there being a two-state solution in the near future, the liberal Zionist consensus that has held together across the political divide will come under pressure.

Pro-Israel activists will have to reach a position on the annexation which does its very best to hold the liberal Zionist consensus together.

But that will not be easy within our own community as there is already a polarisation of views with increasingly extreme positions being entrenched.

The Left have already moved to a position where they will expect Jewish mainstream organisations to condemn the Israeli government. The Right of our community have hardened their reactions to this and are putting pressure on the communal organisations from the other direction.

The community is in danger of polarising on this issue. And its impact will be felt in fundraising for centrist organisations like UJIA, and social campaigning organisations like the New Israel Fund.

I will now move back from the pitch to the stands to observe these developments. They represent fundamental shifts in our communal consensus.

I wish the leaders who deal with these challenges strength, courage and wisdom to ensure that our community continues to thrive.


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