We're a small community, so let's be efficient

By Nicola Loftus, March 14, 2014

There has been much discussion and debate on the effectiveness of the Jewish Leadership Council. Yet, if they are able to complete their mapping exercise of community organisations, this could prove to be one of the most important pieces of work for Anglo-Jewry.

While the “Big Society” might have fallen off the national agenda, we continue to look for ways to strengthen our increasingly small community.

In our “little big society” we have successfully and traditionally financed our own education, welfare, health, defence, culture, arts. We are people who care passionately about the world in which we live, and who have always sought to change things for the better.

And, as funding becomes ever more challenging, we must be brave enough to embrace the changes that the future brings.

Although British Jewry has numerically shrunk, the number of Jewish charities — more than 2,300 according to the Charity Commission — keeps increasing. We have over 30 times the proportion of charities per head than in the general population and yet an ever-shrinking community to service them — and we have become over-reliant on too small a pool of donors.

A survey by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) in the mid-’90s indicated that 80 per cent of Jewish donations came from just nine per cent of the population. While there is no such thing as an unworthy cause, perhaps there is such as thing as too much replication in certain areas.

The JLC should be looking to utilise the vast volume of work that the JPR has already undertaken in this field.
It is clear that many of our charities and community organisations could benefit by sharing their “back office” functions. Does each organisation need to finance its own purchasing departments? Would we not get better deals on procurements if the buying of core products — whether for welfare or education — were done en masse?

It is not difficult to see potential tie-ups and clear commonality. We have made some progress in this; JAMI has partnered with Jewish Care to create a single mental-health service for the Jewish community, building on the dozen or so welfare bodies that helped to create Jewish Care. Norwood and Ravenswood are another prime example.

The London Jewish Cultural Centre is listed as a “partner” of the new shiny JW3, but what does this actually mean financially? Are they working together to cut costs and to increase the reach of Jewish cultural events?
We need to recognise that our ageing society will put ever more pressures on the community. The retirement that people once spoke of consisting of cruises, golf and more time to relax, will only exist for a lucky few. Our time will become more pressured and many of us will be left supporting our children and our parents.

Charities and community organisations are already feeling the squeeze. Legacy-giving has taken an almighty hit across the circuit and it will continue to diminish. We are already operating in a society where there is increasing need but less funding to service that need.

This is why it is critical that we are brave enough to sync our resources where we can, to ensure that the end users are able to access the best services that we are able to provide.

We must not be too frightened to embrace change. Causes will not diminish but will be able to focus more directly, which will enable us to help those in need more effectively. Our community will have more power to effect change and our organisations will be more focused and able to concentrate on directly helping those in need.

We must cut down on some of the bureaucracy that becomes an unnecessary headache and bogs down our professional staff.

If the JLC is able to produce a body of work, which helps to encourage more co-operation and accountability, this can only be a good thing. Time will tell whether the JLC is also able to implement the changes – or will ego and emotion get in the way?

Last updated: 1:45pm, March 14 2014