The best kept secrets


How can a community organization that is 117 years old, has a monthly magazine, a quarterly program on ABC-TV, publishes an annual report, sends thousands of emails and has thousands of friends and followers on social media, have any “secrets?”  How could any secret be maintained when the organization eagerly engages—and is engaged by—tens of thousands of people annually?  Moreover, how could anything be kept under wraps when Charity Navigator awards the group a perfect score for transparency?  Forget all that, how could any secret possibly survive in a community of 300,000 Jews?!

Nonetheless, JUF has secrets. OK, not secrets in the undisclosed, nefarious sense of the word.  It’s more like our work is so broad and we tell you so much via so many media channels, we probably invariably left something out or you invariably missed or even forgot what we told you.

So, in the interest of full disclosure, here’s one list of the most likely JUF “secrets” that should finally see the light of day:  

Financial “secrets”

  • According to Forbes Magazine, JUF is one of the top 100 charities in America, the only one from Illinois and one of only three Jewish charities to make the list. The other two are our sister federation in New York and the American Jewish Distribution Committee, of which JUF is a leading funder!
  • According to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, JUF spends only 4.15 cents to raise a dollar, the best ratio in the state.
  • The foremost bond-rating firm Moody’s has awarded JUF an “Aa3” score, pointing out that it “reflects a history of robust philanthropic support…exceptional liquidity and strong financial resource coverage of debt and operations.”  Was the very fact that JUF leverages its strong balance sheet to finance agency capital projects via issuing bonds itself a “secret” to you? 
  • JUF cultivates volunteerism and draws strength from it: Thousands of volunteer experts in their industries provide JUF with millions of dollars’ worth of in-kind services, from legal to investment, real estate to marketing, and technology to crisis communications advice.  
  • Another 14,000 volunteers of all ages volunteered 150,000 hours last year. At a federal volunteer hourly rate of $24.14, that’s an additional $3.6 million of leveraged value.
  • Centralizing functions like accounting, technology, investments, research, etc. saves our community millions.  For example, over $2 million is saved annually by running one real estate function that purchases, develops, manages, secures, and purchases goods and services for over 60 community facilities.  More impactful still, those groups get to focus on serving people, not managing hundreds of acres and millions of feet of office space.

Impact “secrets”

  • JUF helps over 500,000 Chicagoans of all faiths—about 10 percent of the entire population of our primary service areas: Cook and Lake counties.
  • JUF helps 2 million Jews worldwide, one of every 7.
  • For over four decades, JUF has held the master contract to resettle every refugee in Illinois, including over 30,000 Russian Jews, who have fled religious, political, racial persecution in their homeland.
  • JUF’s annual “Big Event” for young adults—now in its 10th year—attracts over 2,000 participants, making it the largest such gathering in the country.  All told, last year 7,333 young adults attended a variety of JUF education, advocacy, fundraising, and outreach events.
  • 85 years ago, in response to the Depression, JUF was one of the three major local charities that created today’s Chicago United Way.
  • JUF’s PJ Library program, which provides free Jewish books and music monthly to children aged 6 months to 8 years, is the nation’s largest, benefitting over 7,700 families.
  • In the country’s first and largest Jewish pre-school voucher program, JUF’s Right Start initiative provides up to $2,000 grants per child. The result, with thousands of recipients the past decade, has been a significant boost in Jewish preschool enrollment.

Last year JUF agencies provided:

  1. 575,681 meals, food bags, and groceries to feed the hungry;
  2. financial assistance to 5,384 households;
  3. free or highly subsidized health care 41,090 individuals, and;
  4. 23,656 seniors with services improving their quality of life.
  • 8,735 people attended pro-Israel events, and 3,805 college students engaged in Jewish life on Illinois college campuses via Hillels. JUF is the country’s only Federation that employs every Hillel staffer and owns and manages every Hillel building, from Urbana-Champaign to Northwestern, and from the University of Chicago to Silverstein Base Hillel in Lincoln Park.
  • JUF’s 2017 matching Security Grant Program generated $2.86 million in new funding to enhance security at 61 Jewish sites, including 25 synagogues, 17 day schools and preschools, 12 agency locations, camps, and colleges.
  • JUF’s Ta’am Yisrael, the only community trip to Israel for 8th graders in the country, sends  some 200 kids annually. All told, JUF helps send 3,000 Chicagoans to Israel each year.

All these activities and more are implemented by capable staff, and overseen by an extraordinary cadre of volunteer leaders who guide JUF’s 30-plus governance committees. Those governance committees run the gamut from executive compensation to audit, from investments to treasurer’s risk, and from outreach to executive committees. In fact, in JUF’s annual budget process alone, some 300 volunteers provide oversight as to how precious communal resources are allocated today while doing the forward-thinking planning for tomorrow and beyond.

JUF does many things well. Secrets are not one of them.  Indeed, we have no desire to have secrets and seek to do a better job of keeping all our good works as clearly visible as possible.  After all, to paraphrase one wise Midwestern novelist, “They who keep a secret may be wise, but not half as wise as they with no secrets to keep.”

Jay Tcath is executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago.


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