Yesterday evening, a young man called to ask for my annual Federation pledge.
In Atlanta, Federation mostly raises funds and allocates them to a portfolio of local and international organizations. All of the programs in their portfolio are good, sure. Twenty percent of their allocations go to support Israel through Joint Distribution and Jewish Agency. Plus, one of the 26 organizations they fund, my family utilizes: PJ Library.
However, nearly all of the Jewish programs that make up my family's Jewish life are not funded by Federation: Limmud Atlanta, Jewish Kids Groups, Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, and our intown Atlanta Jewish community. All of these are young organizations, near and dear to me, and I support them with my time and money.
Plus, most of the "Atlanta-based" organizations they do fund are not in Atlanta proper -- where I and my Jewish community live -- but are in different cities North of Atlanta: Dunwoody, Marietta, Sandy Springs.
For me, Federation is like Piccadilly Cafeteria located OTP ("outside the Perimeter") -- it's a smorgasbord where the chicken tetrazzini is ok, but I'm really not into the buttered okra, and they don't even serve my favorite: Indian cuisine. Why dine there?
In addition, customer service at Piccadilly may be fine, but it is not so great at Federation. It's small things, like being told the photos we were submitting for "A Community Snapshot" exhibit shouldn't be from Limmud because Limmud is not Federation funded. Small things, like hearing my friends' frustration with the bureaucracy when volunteering. Unanswered emails. (Federation is not alone with unanswered emails. In 2005, Jewish Outreach Institute did a "secret shopper" experiment and requested program information from 44 Atlanta Jewish institutions; they received 24 replies.) I know, it's small stuff -- but, again, why dine there?
Our limited money needs to go to the organizations that are important to us and are in line with our values (and our geography). Now it will.
One last consideration: today, I had lunch with a former Federation board member and he made a very good point: continuing with my analogy... if I'm not dining at the buffet, I may forget a couple of food groups. Some of the organizations Federation funds are social services that my family doesn't use but are nonetheless important for any community to support, for example, Jewish Family and Career Services and Breman Jewish Home (for the elderly). So, point taken, our family will consider adding these into our annual donation mix, and, of course, donations can be made to them directly.
Do you donate to your local Federation? Why or why not?