In Tuesday morning’s Oregonian, the headline of the Metro section read, “United Way Plans a New Role.” I was immediately drawn to the article to learn more about their future plans. Like the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, the United Way is moving away from being a more transactional organization to a more “relational” organization. Too often, both Federation and the United Way are seen as “middlemen” for people’s charitable contributions. In reality, we are community-building organizations focused on making a direct impact on the greatest needs in our community.
One of the key focus challenges for my counterpart at the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, Keith Thomajan, is to encourage people to embrace change. In fact, the incoming Chairman of the United Way said this about Keith, “He’s pushed us to think in a broader fashion, a bigger fashion, a more inclusive fashion.”
Keith and I met a few weeks after he started his position at the United Way. We had a short, frank conversation talking about the challenges and opportunities for “umbrella” type non-profit organizations -- Retaining and finding new donors…Dealing with issues of directed giving versus giving to the general campaign…Philanthropic differences between older and younger donors…Communal resources in Portland…just to name a few. In the end, we realized that each of our organizations makes a tremendous impact on our communities because of the broader view we take. We raise money for the greater communal good and not just for our own particular organizational interests.
As part of this change at the United Way, they are creating several new positions, including two focused on community collaborations. The goal is to do more outreach into the community, as well as to develop new partnerships. Federation started this process over 20 months ago by hiring a Director of Community Engagement. We continue to create linkages and co-sponsor multiple programs and events throughout the year with a multitude of Jewish organizational partners. We have also branched out into the general community with our Food for Thought Festival benefitting the Oregon Food Bank.
One key point in the article was that, “A year after bringing in new management, the United Way’s local chapter is poised to significantly change its focus as a clearinghouse for corporate giving. Though leaders say they will continue that traditional role, the organization also plans to put more resources into community engagement, in part by linking businesses with community volunteer opportunities.”
The Jewish Federation is already there.
Under the incredible leadership of Jon Caplan, a committee of community leaders and organizational representatives spent months looking at ways to maximize volunteerism in Jewish Portland. I am pleased to announce that the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland has launched the Portland Mitzvah Network. The Portland Mitzvah Network, hosted on behalf of the community by the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, is focused on meeting critical community needs by engaging people with volunteer opportunities in collaboration with others. The Portland Mitzvah Network is a web-based portal and program designed to coordinate and promote volunteer needs within the Jewish community, as well as fulfill needs identified in the broader community. Every Jewish organization has the opportunity to share their volunteer needs with the entire community and not just to their own constituents. The Network also allows individuals to explore the entire national database of opportunities offered through the All for Good volunteerism aggregate.
In the newest edition of Oregon Jewish Life magazine, an article about the Portland Mitzvah Network states, "This online, easy-to-use, automated matchmaker provides one-stop shopping for hands-on volunteer opportunities…Volunteers and community organizations are encouraged to sign up and register their specific needs."
What was initially an idea from Aviel Brodkin and funded with a Community Impact Grant quickly grew to something much larger. It is a benefit to the entire Jewish community – making it easy for organizations (Jewish and non-Jewish) to publicize their volunteer opportunities….and, at the same time, provides individuals and groups looking to volunteer an online portal to make those connections (whether one-time or ongoing).
Now, we are not the first Jewish community to create a coordinated volunteer program. We are, however, the first to partner with HandsOn Connect Network, the national umbrella organization for local affiliates such as HandsOn Portland (now a program of our local United Way). We are using their online resources to make this possible. In fact, while some Federations are spending $75,000+ to manage their volunteer program (that only include volunteer opportunities within the Jewish community) and their own software system, we will be spending $10,000 per year for the entire network and to market its efforts. We are proud to be able to bring something so robust to Jewish Portland – now all we need is YOU.
Yes, Federation is indeed making an impact on our community. We are more than an intermediary for donors. We are also more than just an allocations process to local partner agencies. The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is truly focused on meeting critical needs and making our community one of meaning and purpose.
And YOU are an integral part of that process.