Will JNFs Green Sunday campaign ring in prosperity

It might be like trying to sell heaters in the desert.

After months of bad publicity about its spending and accounting policies, the Jewish National Fund is staging its annual Green Sunday Phone-a-Thon this weekend. The regional office hopes to raise $75,000 for planting trees and developing land in the Jewish state.

An internal audit last October revealed that only 21 percent of the agency's total expenditure — last year JNF raised roughly $30 million — found its way to the Jewish state. While the audit found the agency innocent of fraud or malfeasance, reportedly sloppy accounting procedures shook the confidence of some supporters.

JNF has retooled, reshuffling several of the top brass and replacing President Milton Shapiro with high-profile cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder.

JNF staff members across the country also have been laid off as part of cost-cutting measures, including one of this region's four full-time workers.

Some 100 volunteer solicitors who will be phoning Bay Area Jewish households asking for pledges Sunday, March 2 will receive special instructions on how to counteract the recent bad publicity.

"Callers will be briefed to answer questions openly and honestly," says Stanley Bresh, JNF's San Francisco director. "We're confident that all our past problems are behind us. We look forward to the continuing support of the Bay Area Jewish community."

Last year, the one-day campaign raised $60,000 to add to the Bay Area's $2.7 million total contributions to JNF for the year.

Eventually, says Bresh, the national agency hopes to send 50 percent to 70 percent of the dollars it raises to Israel. Locally, Bresh says he has no control over how the money is spent but does say 85 cents of every dollar raised here goes to JNF's national headquarters in New York.

All major donors here were phoned after the audit, according to Bresh. As for those potential donors whose phones will be ringing Sunday, he hopes they will remember JNF's mission, and will trust that any problems are being solved.

John Leipsic, president of JNF's Pacific Northwest Region, underscores Bresh's comments.

"The slate has been cleared and cleaned and the act will be cleaned up. People are going to get their money's worth. We've corrected the problem and we're on the right track," Leipsic said.

"This mishugas isn't necessary to rehash," he added. "We serve a tremendous purpose in Israel of planting trees and water reclamation and making the desert bloom."