By Mary Teresa Bitti
The launch of a new funding model for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta was rocky at best.
With no office space in the fast-growing North Metro region of Atlanta, the federation found a room in a Kroger grocery store to host what has since gone down in federation lore as the “Kroger Massacre.”
While the participants laugh about it now, the humor was hard to find a year ago when they were hammering out exactly how the federation, along with its affiliates and volunteers, was going to implement a new outcomes-based funding model.
“It was such a culture change for everybody,” says Shira Ledman, director of community planning and partnerships for the federation.
The federation dates back 100 years and, as Ledman points out, was used to handing out money from on high.
“Historically, we’ve written the checks and said, ‘Go and do good,’” she says.
But in 2003, the federation revamped its approach and created a long-range strategic plan with “outcomes planning” as one of its key drivers.
Taking a page from United Way, which Ledman says was an early adopter of results-oriented funding, the federation decided to apply business objectives to its grantmaking in order to achieve measurable social benefits.
“It’s not enough to just say we’re doing good work,” she says.
“Donors, especially younger donors, don’t want to see the black hole of funding,” she says. “They want to see something positive happening to the end-user as a result of their money. And as a planner, that’s exactly what I want.”
Enter outcomes planning, where outcome equals impact, and where good ideas, personal impressions and anecdotal evidence alone don’t cut it, says Nina Salkin, the federation’s media relations manager.
To determine where it should focus its resources, the federation conducted a community demographics study, which resulted in the approval of three distinct domestic outcomes.
They include developing Jewish youth who are confident with their Jewish identity; Jews who are active members of the Greater Atlanta Jewish community; and Jewish caregivers who lead balanced lives while caring for loved ones who are aging or have mental, physical or emotional needs.
The federation is convening teams around each outcome, and bringing together affiliate agencies that provide services in particular outcome areas, independent agencies, experts in the community and its own volunteers, says Ledman.
“Together they are going to deliver a plan outlining how they will make the outcome happen and benchmarks to measure impact,” she says. “Once approved, then we’ll apply the dollars to it.”
This is a new way of doing business for staff, volunteers and affiliates that has required training around outcomes and evaluation, and a more hands-on, collaborative approach for the federation that includes reaching out to other community organizations and funding non-affiliates.
While core funding to the federation’s 17 affiliate agencies is unchanged and protected for the next three years, the new funding model will support the new outcomes, which in effect have been built on what the affiliates have been doing.
“We realized that a win for another organization is a win for everybody,” says Salkin. “You want the multiplier effect to urge people deeper and deeper into Jewish life.”
Ledman says the new approach already has spurred change.
In a pilot project in the northern area of Atlanta geared to engage the Jewish population, six in 10 of whom have no connection to their heritage, a new kind of sharing has evolved, she says.
Over the course of a few months, the federation created a network and database linking the community with affiliates, synagogues, the federation, and non-affiliate organizations such as the American Jewish Committee.
While it’s too early to measure the impact of the project, Ledman believes it’s a good start.
“The database tracks the types of events people are accessing and tells them what else is going on, so there is follow-up,” she says. “This notion that we are all in this in partnership has come out of the outcomes model.”