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Elliot Leven


By Elliot Leven, January 26, 2010

From time to time there has been discussion in our community about whether the  Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA) should scrap the venerable “two-line pledge card.” In 2009, for example,  CJA spokespersons confirmed that the change was being considered.

Winnipeg’s CJA is unique because of its “two-line card”.  Donors to the CJA are able to decide, when they make their pledge, what fraction of their donation will go to local beneficiaries (such as the Gray Academy of Jewish Education and the Jewish Child and Family Service), and what fraction will go to national and international beneficiaries (such as the UIA Federations Canada and the Jewish Agency for Israel).

Within each “line”, it is the Winnipeg Jewish Federation that decides how much money to allocate to each beneficiary.  The Federation has a budget-and-allocations process which evaluates local needs on an annual basis, and reports to the Federation board of directors.  The board makes the final decision each year.  

In recent years, the CJA has allowed major donors (those who give $18,000 or more) to allocate part of their donation to one or more specific beneficiaries.  All other donors have only the two “lines” to choose from.

In other cities, centralized Jewish campaigns like the CJA have one-line pledge cards.  Donors decide how much to donate to the appeal, the appeal (through its committees and board) decides how to allocate its disposable revenue among local, national and international organizations.

Of course, operating expenses come “off the top”.  The Federation has its own operating costs (such as salaries), which it pays first, before it decides how much money it can allocate to local, national and international beneficiaries.  The Federation’s 2009 audited financial statements show expenditures of $1,063,885, including $864,067 in salaries.

The main argument in favor of a two-line card is that it gives donors more control over where their donations go.  This may encourage larger donations in some cases. For example, a donor who really wants to support local Jewish organizations, but does not particularly want to support national or international organizations, will be more inclined to donate (or to donate more) to an appeal with a two-line card (earmarking their donation to the “local” line), than to an appeal with a one-line card.


The main argument against a two-line card is that it deprives the Jewish Federation of the flexibility which a one-line card would give it.  For example, in an unusual year, there might be an unusually large need for local funding.  If there is a two-line card, and donors do not voluntarily increase their allocations to the “local” line, some of the local funding needs might go unmet.  This problem could be partially reduced if the appeal were to maintain a large reserve fund, which could be used to increase either local or national-international funding in an unusual year.

An argument which I have heard made by Federation “insiders” privately (but never publicly) is that insiders are more knowledgeable than ordinary donors about Jewish organizational needs, so insiders should have total control over where donations go.

On their own initiative, individuals can bypass a centralized campaign entirely and make direct donations to any local, national or international charity that they wish.  In a sense, such donors create their own hundred-line pledge card, and make their own allocations as they please.  Such donors may choose to donate more than once a year to some charities. They can earmark some or all of their money to Jewish charities that are not CJA beneficiaries.  

In the past, as a volunteer CJA telephone canvasser, I have often spoken to donors who simply split their pledge 50-50 between the two lines.  I once phoned a potential donor who told me that he preferred to donate to the New Israel Fund (a progressive Israeli charity) than to the CJA. I once spoke to a donor who was angry at the Israeli government, but was willing to make a CJA pledge earmarked 100% towards the local line.

Many Jewish charities now have their own endowment funds.  Donors can decide to donate various amounts to various endowment funds annually or whenever they choose.

The Federation’s 2009 financial statements show that about 67% of donations to the CJA’s 2008-2009 campaign were towards the “local line” and about 33% were towards the national-international line.  The 2008-2009 CJA campaign raised about $5.36 million in total, down slightly from 2007-2008.  The Federation also had other income, including interest from its own endowment fund.  

Should the CJA scrap the two-line card? In a sense, it is an existential question.  What is the purpose of a Jewish community federation with a centralized fundraising campaign? A federation serves as a “central address” for a Jewish community.  It is important for a community to have such an entity for dealing with government, media and other ethnic and religious communities. A federation also provides certain services that smaller organizations generally don’t.  Winnipeg’s Jewish Federation has been instrumental in encouraging Jewish immigration to Winnipeg in recent years.

A centralized campaign has greater resources than smaller campaigns run by individual Jewish charities.  It is usually much more efficient at finding and approaching potential donors who would be missed by smaller fundraising efforts. It is much more effective at maintaining up-to-date donor lists than small charities are.

A centralized campaign takes advantage of some economies of scale (e.g. in advertising, mailing, billing).  On the other hand, employees of larger entities often draw salaries and benefits larger than those drawn by employees of smaller charities.

The main shortcoming of a large, centralized campaign is that it does not have the same personal touch that smaller charities have.  Many donors, large and small, have a passionate connection to one specific charity and are willing to donate more to that one favorite organization than they would donate to a more faceless, centralized campaign.  A system in which each individual donor made all of their own donation decisions would be more fragmented, and less efficient, but more democratic.

A compromise

The CJA’s two-line card can be seen as a compromise.  It maintains a centralized campaign, but allows donors (even small ones) to have at least partial control over where their money goes.  It is more democratic than a  one-line card.

The trend in charitable giving is to give donors more, rather than less, control over where their money goes.  For example, Plan Canada (formerly Foster Parents Plan), allows donors to make general donations, or to target their donations to specific geographical areas, to specific campaigns, and/or to individual foster children.  In selecting a foster child, a foster parent can choose by country, gender and/or age.  The donor is given as many choices as possible.  Plan Canada has found this to be a very successful strategy.

Other charities have also moved in the direction of giving donors more choices and options.  They have found that, over the long term, giving donors some control over where their money goes encourages more and larger donations.  Of course, donors who simply want to make a general donation to the organization are free to do so.

Based on my experience as a volunteer fundraiser and as a donor to various Jewish and non-Jewish charities, my view is that the CJA would be making a mistake by scrapping the two-line card.  Giving donors some choice about where their money goes is both democratic and pragmatic.  It would also be keeping with the general trend in charitable fundraising.

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