Who Will Head The Major Jewish Federations of America?

Federations Scramble To Replace Retiring Leaders

Kurt Hoffman

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published January 06, 2014, issue of January 10, 2014.
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Jewish federations are hiring. Does anyone want the job?

A wave of vacancies in top executive spots of North America’s largest Jewish federations is raising concerns about the Jewish community’s ability to replace a generation of federation CEOs on the brink of retirement.

Top executives at federations in New York, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Dallas have announced their departures in recent months. Jennifer Gorovitz, who leads the federation in San Francisco, added her name to the list on January 3, when she said she would be leaving her post in March.

Potentially complicating the replacement process is the wide range in salaries offered by the largest federations, and a seeming lack of accord as to how federation size should correlate with CEO compensation.

Officials and observers say that the salary discrepancies have yet to affect the hiring process. But some worry that, regardless of the salaries, the current applicant pool may be cause for concern. Observers say that the generation of charismatic federation officials who came to prominence during the Soviet Jewry movement and similar causes may give way to a duller bunch.

“They’re going to be less of an inspired, rally-the-donors kind of person, and more of a nonprofit manager,” said Mark I. Rosen, an assistant professor at the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University. “You want somebody who gets donors excited about whatever the cause is. I don’t know if the new generation can do that in the same way as the old generation.”

Others cast the turnover as a positive development. “It’s a good thing that we’re seeing new leadership,” said Joe Berkofsky, a spokesman for the Jewish Federations of North America. “I think our job is to help communities recruit and develop the next generation of leaders, and that’s what we’re doing.”

The retirements come as Jewish fundraising generally, and federation fundraising in particular, faces a growing crisis. According to the Pew Research Center’s survey of American Jews, only 46% of Jews ages 18 to 49 reported donating to Jewish organizations, compared with 66% of Jews ages 50 and up. Meanwhile, only 14% of New York-area Jews ages 35 to 49 gave to the local federation in 2011, compared with 42% of people ages 75 and up.

Four of the 20 large community federations in JFNA’s network will be seeking a new executive director in 2014: New York City, Philadelphia, Greater MetroWest-New Jersey and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. Dallas’s federation, which is slightly smaller, is also hiring a top executive. That’s a large number of vacancies for top jobs at federations, where successful leaders often last decades.

The 2014 vacancies appear to be just the tip of a broad generational turnover. John Ruskay, who is retiring from the New York City federation, has held his job since 1999; Max Kleinman at MetroWest has been there since 1995. Other large federations seem likely to seek new executives soon: Barry Shrage has led the Boston federation since 1987; Steven Nasatir has led the Chicago federation since 1979, and Stephen Hoffman has led the Cleveland federation since 1983.

It’s not yet clear whether these leaders have cultivated replacements within their organizations. But it appears that the number of eligible, desirable applicants seeking major federation jobs like these is small.

“The challenge facing the Jewish community on the professional side is attracting top talent,” said Bradley Laye, interim CEO of the federation in Dallas, which is currently searching for a CEO. “There’s a dearth of quality professionals at these levels.”

CEO salaries paid by large federations vary widely. The best-paid large federation CEO, Stephen Hoffman in Cleveland, earned $722,000 in 2012; the worst paid, Jason Shames in Northern New Jersey, earned just $225,000.

Salaries also vary widely when the size of the federation is taken into account. Ira Schwartz, who last May abruptly quit his job heading the Philadelphia federation, earned $450,000 in 2012. His organization spent $33 million that year. Kleinman earned $322,000, though his federation was far larger than Philadelphia’s, spending $40 million that year. The human resources director at MetroWest, Bonnie Sterling, said that the relative underpayment of the federation’s former CEO would not hinder its search, which is just getting started. “To date it has not been a problem,” Sterling said.

Still, Sterling said that the market could force changes over the course of the search. “This is an unusual time in that there are so many federations that are conducting searches,” Sterling said. “As with any employer who needs to fill a position, we would have to take into account what the market will indicate.”

Gorovitz, meanwhile, was one of the most underpaid large federation executives in the country, according to an independent analysis of the Forward’s 2013 salary survey. She earned less than both Kleinman and Schwartz, just $311,000 in 2012, while her organization spent $134 million, many times more than either of their groups.

She also is the only woman to ever lead any of the largest American federations.

Berkofsky said that salaries were determined based on a range of factors, and that CEO salaries could not be compared. However, Mark Charendoff, former president of the Jewish Funders Network and current president of the Maimonides Fund, acknowledged “a lot of flaws” in the federation compensation system. But, he said, they mirror flaws found in for-profit executive compensation today.

“I would not expect the not-for-profit salaries to line up in a logical model, because I don’t think for-profit salaries line up in a logical model,” he said.

Charendoff suggested that, given Jewish communal concerns about engaging young people, the highest-paid Jewish federation executives shouldn’t be the CEOs, but rather the youth leaders. “I would expect to see a bidding war for outstanding and charismatic youth leaders or people who are in the Jewish engagement business,” Charendoff said. “I wouldn’t necessarily value a fundraiser over someone who’s in the business of delivering services.”

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com or on Twitter, @ joshnathankazis

This article was updated on January 8.


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