The Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center has launched a $1 million fundraising campaign, to shore up pandemic-era sustainability and set the stage for strong post-pandemic operations.
The pandemic has put the Milwaukee area’s Jewish community center under pressure. Revenue is down and expenses are up, said Mark Shapiro, president and chief executive officer. But if the JCC can fundraise now, “the comeback can be stronger than the setback,” said JCC Board Chair Nancy Kennedy Barnett.
Thus, the JCC launched the Campaign For a Strong JCC in October, naming 12 past JCC board chairs as co-chairs of the campaign, along with Barnett. “If we have a once-in–a-lifetime challenge, then we need to have an all–hands-on-deck approach to solving it,” Shapiro said.
“The Milwaukee Jewish Federation fully supports the Campaign For a Strong JCC,” said Miryam Rosenzweig, president and CEO of Milwaukee Jewish Federation. “We are working collaboratively with the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center to fundraise both for the Campaign For a Strong JCC and the Federation’s Annual Campaign.”
Pandemic changes plans
After the 2008 and 2009 economic downtown, JCC leadership planned with a focus on sustainability for the next 100 years, Shapiro said.
“We built a new sustainable model, focusing on partnering to build a healthier Milwaukee, meeting our community where they are, and inspiring Jewish journeys,” he said. “COVID was the perfect storm to disrupt that plan.”
When it became clear that the pandemic was going to last longer than hoped, JCC leaders determined it was time to leverage its “culture of philanthropy” for assistance, Shapiro said.
To do so, the JCC has asked 12 prior board chairs, and the current one, spanning 40 years of JCC leadership, to co-chair the Campaign for Tomorrow.
“Absolutely every single person stepped up and said yes,” Barnett said. “It really speaks volumes to the commitment that our community makes in our JCC.”
“We really view the JCC as a community investment, a community asset,” Barnett said. “We’re just out of balance right now.”
The JCC business model, based on fees for service, has been disrupted by the pandemic, she said. Meanwhile, COVID-19 precautions have increased expenses. “It’s not sustainable,” Barnett said.
The JCC has reduced its staff by about one-third, with widespread and substantial pay cuts for those remaining during the pandemic, Shapiro said. “We have done, internally, what we can,” he said.
The JCC has also leveraged partnerships for assistance, Shapiro said. The national Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund loaned the JCC $1 million, interest free. The Fund for Jewish MKE, which is the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s campaign to benefit the entire Jewish community in response to the pandemic, has given more than $400,000 to the JCC. Also, more than $50,000 has been given to the JCC though the Federation’s donor advised funds.
The $1 million loan from the national Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund is not to be confused with the local $1 million campaign goal. That’s grounded in a best estimate of what it will take – after the layoffs, cuts and assistance – to meet the JCC’s challenges through the end of its fiscal year in June 2021, Shapiro said.
Investment in tomorrow
The challenges are not just the needs of the present. The campaign is also an “investment in tomorrow,” Shapiro said.
“The investment in tomorrow is really going to be who are going to be, post–pandemic and beyond,” he said. Some ideas developed for the pandemic are sure to continue, like the remote access given to people for some programming. That extension of pandemic practices will require some investment, to give the JCC the technical ability charge for access (there are barriers to charging for Zoom access).
Shapiro said he also hopes to give more scholarships to more families, given the economic downturn.
Even as JCC leaders are planning for tomorrow, the organization has had to pivot in the present.
“How we meet our members where they are has changed,” Shapiro said. “The JCC sees itself in two key deliverables right now. There is the JCC in our ‘Spaces and Places,’ which is here in our facility, our fitness center, our water park over the summer, our youth programing out at Rainbow Day camp this summer, our Student Center, and then it’s our early childhood programs – those are happening in the physical spaces of the JCC, and obviously along with our food pantry.”
The second key deliverable is the JCC’s “Beyond a Buidling” effort, with activities taking place through Zoom and other methods.
“We are living at a crossroads in history right now,” Shapiro said, reiterating that the goal is for the comeback to be stronger than the setback.
“I came to Milwaukee in 1983 and I found this amazing JCC,” Barnett said. “I want to be sure to leave it for the next generation as strong as I found it when I came here.”
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Twelve former board chairs of the JCC over a 40-year period have agreed to co-chair of the JCC’s $1 million Campaign For a Strong JCC, along with current Board Chair Nancy Kennedy Barnett. The 12 individuals are William Appel, Warren Blumenthal, Jane Gellman, Judy Guten, Mark Jubelirer, Joe Kasle, Moshe Katz, Jamie Miller, Armin Nankin, Alicia Sadoff, Marsha Sehler and Sue Strait.