It is a great honor to become Federation president. As I told my daughter, it was a hard-fought campaign with no opponents! My plan is to continue the efforts of Rob Cahn, my immediate predecessor, to make the Federation into a modern nonprofit organization able to sustain itself and its programs through the contributions made by our donors, by funds realized from Federation fundraising events and monies received from grants from other nonprofit entities. In this way, the Federation can assist and support our Howard County community, including individuals in need (yes, they do exist in Howard County), synagogues and organizations.
Our 2013-2014 campaign has come to an end, and, for a second consecutive year, we have had a “flat” campaign; and our Jewish community is not alone in this regard. Initially, it was thought that the decrease in giving was tied to the downturn in the economy. However, the level of giving is not growing as the economy improves. I believe that our community has lost its zeal for charitable giving.
Using Howard County, one of the richest counties in Maryland and the country, as an example, the level of giving (Jew and gentile together) is around 4 percent of compensation in a recent study. The same study showed that the rate in Prince George’s County, a much less wealthy county in terms of overall average compensation, is 10 percent. Some of the discrepancy can be attributed to faith-based giving in PG County, which is not as strong in Howard County. However, I think a great portion of the difference is that Howard County residents, in general, do not perceive that there is great need in their community and simply don’t give because of this perception.
This is certainly true for our Jewish community. However, our Jewish community, as does every Jewish community locally and around the world, has members in dire straits, in need of support to get food, either by bringing it to home-bound seniors and disabled people or helping them buy items, medical care, shelter or assistance for financial problems that cannot be handled at the time the problems arise. Just because these problems cannot be readily seen behind the lawns and homes of Howard County does not mean they don’t exist. If these problems exist in Howard County, you can be sure they exist in every Jewish community.
I know everyone tires of hearing that the Federation is a fundraising organization, but that is the simple reality. We raise money so that we can fund programs and social services in Howard County, support communities in need elsewhere in the United States and around the world in times of emergency and assist our fellow Jews internationally. This is why the Federation exists. Our Federation is the Jewish fundraising organization in our community and engaged in tikkun olam and tzedakah at home and together with more than 150 other local Federations on the national and international level. Our tireless volunteers and professional staff need your monetary assistance so that we can make the Federation work for all.
The 2014-2015 campaign starts in September. It is our hope that our community “steps forward” this fiscal year so that we can realize our fundraising goal and expand the Federation’s ability to provide meaningful programs and assistance. We cannot do it without the help of our entire Jewish community.
Richard Schreibstein is the president of the Jewish Federation of Howard County.