MILWAUKEE – By the numbers, Caren Goldberg’s tenure at Milwaukee Jewish Federation has been inarguably impressive. When she started as an endowment associate in 1996, there was less than $60 million in assets under management at the Federation’s Jewish Community Foundation.
Now it’s close to $200 million, with Goldberg as executive director of the Foundation since 2011. In addition to her role at the Foundation, she’s also chief development officer for the Federation.
Yet when asked what she’s most proud of, she thinks of the human relationships. “I think it’s mutual inspiration. The best time of my day is always when I’m able to sit down with a donor who is interested in making the Jewish world a better place,” said Goldberg, who is retiring from the Federation on April 30.
Goldberg will continue with Federation in a consulting role for 18 months to help others with their transitions. This includes incoming Foundation Executive Director Mitch Moser, who Federation Board Chair Moshe Katz said he’s “extremely excited about.”
To Katz, and to Goldberg’s other fans, one of her great strengths has been her unassuming, unpretentious approach to connecting with people.
“She’s one of the best professionals I’ve ever seen,” said Mark Brickman, who has been a Milwaukee Jewish Federation supporter for decades, including having served as its board chair.
Brickman remembered one couple in their 90s who were thinking about making a gift in perpetuity, but “they were very intimidated by the whole idea.” Goldberg sat at their kitchen table and helped them feel comfortable and like family. The gift probably never would have happened if not for Goldberg, said Brickman, who added that the essential facts of this tale have probably been repeated many times. It’s all about the relationships.
“She really enjoys that piece of it,” said Greg Marcus, chair of the Foundation board of trustees. “Caren is the consummate professional. She is passionate about her work.”
Stephen Chernof, a past chair of the Foundation, recalled how he’d find out about a legacy contribution from someone only after the fact. “She’d say, well, I started working with that person 10 years ago or 15 years ago,” he said.
To engage in conversations about legacy requires a special caliber of sensitivity, said Katz. “She’s able to do that for countless people for our community, and she’s done it exceptionally well,” he said.
Goldberg has been driven by a passion for the job, Chernof said. The source of that passion? It’s the importance to her of the “long-term welfare of the Jewish community,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any more difficult or complex than that.”
Brickman noted how he gets 11 p.m. emails from her. “We’ve had a lot of very good professionals (in the local Jewish community), but Caren stands out,” Brickman said. “Caren has been extraordinarily dedicated.”
Since 2016, Goldberg has worn two hats, filling two roles that can each be a full-time job. Goldberg has been both chief development officer for Federation, giving her responsibility for overall fundraising including the Annual Campaign, and executive director for the Jewish Community Foundation, where she’s overseen the funds that support so many charities.
“She made it look easy, but I don’t think it was,” Marcus said.
Besides the growth in assets under management, the Jewish Community Foundation now manages more than 900 funds, including donor advised funds, which is a significant increase. When Goldberg started, there were just over 500 funds in total.
“Through those funds donors are making donations to over a thousand charities,” Goldberg said. “What’s been so inspiring to me is the level of generosity that I’ve seen in our people who want to do good in the world.”
Goldberg can also take pride in the advent of the Federation’s Create a Jewish Legacy program, started in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.
“Caren inspires enthusiastic support for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and its partners, to serve those most in need and strengthen opportunities to live vibrant Jewish lives,” said Miryam Rosenzweig, president and CEO of the Federation. “We are grateful for her years of service and her unparalleled accomplishments. Her impact on Jewish philanthropy will be felt for many years.”
Lauri Roth, 2020 Annual Campaign chair, said: “Caren has been an amazing leader for Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the Jewish community. There’s no limit to what she can do. She makes overseeing and growing multiple paths to philanthropy seem easy, even though we all know it’s not. I am so grateful for Caren’s hard work and her accomplishments.”
The path and what’s next
Goldberg joined the Federation in 1996 after serving as an attorney at two firms, Friebert, Finerty & St. John, S.C. and Kravit, Gass & Weber. She’s also clerked for the state of Wisconsin’s Court of Appeals.
“When I started here 23 years ago, I felt like I was coming home,” she said. She remembers Bert Bilsky as a “really wonderful mentor.”
He was first executive director of the Foundation. “I learned everything from him. What donors were interested in. How to make their philanthropic dreams come alive,” she recalled.
What’s next? She has become a big sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Milwaukee and was matched in November. And she’s applied to be a court-appointed special advocate for children in foster care.
She and her husband Dan plan to stay in Milwaukee, though their three adult children live elsewhere. “I’m looking forward to being able to travel more to see them,” she said.
“I’m going to take a little time and figure out what’s next,” said Goldberg, who is 61. “It’s been a wonderful career.”