BBYO is becoming an independent group

NEW YORK — In an effort to raise funds, one of North America's oldest Jewish youth groups is loosening ties to its parent organization to become an independent nonprofit.

B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, following in the footsteps of Hillel: The Foundation for Campus Jewish Life, will continue to receive some funds from B'nai B'rith International but will have its own budget, fund-raising apparatus and board of directors.

However, BBYO will enjoy a closer relationship with B'nai B'rith's national and local offices than Hillel does, according to B'nai B'rith's international president, Richard Heideman.

B'nai B'rith and BBYO's teen leaders will be represented on BBYO's new board, but philanthropists, foundations and various Jewish agencies also will be included. The board members have not yet been determined, but B'nai B'rith is not expected to hold the majority of seats.

The 75-year-old BBYO will continue to be housed free of charge in B'nai B'rith's Washington headquarters.

According to data posted on the BBYO Web site, the group has approximately 11,000 members. B'nai B'rith officials say the number is closer to 20,000, and with new funding they expect it to grow much larger.

B'nai B'rith's board of governors voted last month to approve the change, effective "as soon as practical."

Heideman, called the move a "strategic plan for funding BBYO."

BBYO, which is B'nai B'rith's largest single budget item, will receive $1 million annually from the group, Heideman said.

That figure is approximately half of what B'nai B'rith spent on the group in 2001.

In recent years, B'nai B'rith's North American membership rolls and revenues have plummeted and it has steadily cut allocations to BBYO. In March, BBYO's 39 regions learned that because of B'nai B'rith's financial woes, they were likely to lose all funding from the parent organization as of July 1.

However, an independent BBYO is expected to be more attractive to major donors, who have been frustrated by the fact that all gifts to BBYO had to be channeled through B'nai B'rith.

In addition, under a new revenue distribution B'nai B'rith adopted at last month's meeting, B'nai B'rith's local groups will be able to more easily raise money for their local BBYO chapters, Heideman said.

It is not clear how quickly BBYO will reap the benefits, but sources within B'nai B'rith are optimistic that the more than $1 million it is cutting will be replaced by other sources in time for the July 1 start of the 2002 budget.

"This is not a walkaway," Heideman said. "If we didn't have major funders coming to the table we would be taking a different approach with BBYO, I assure you."

B'nai B'rith and BBYO are in the midst of discussions with the Jewish federation umbrella, the United Jewish Communities, the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America and at least one major family foundation.

The idea of becoming a separate organization — first announced as a possibility earlier this spring — generally has been welcomed by BBYO leaders. Many believe the youth group will be more appealing to donors and partners other than B'nai B'rith, which has been criticized for lacking a clear mission or purpose.

Gary Saltzman, chairman of the B'nai B'rith youth commission, said in an official statement released by B'nai B'rith that the change will help "expand BBYO so that it reaches many more of the tens of thousands of Jewish teens who have no current organizational tie to the community or to Jewish life."

That statement also quoted one of BBYO's two teen presidents, Jen Kraus, as saying, "We're excited about the new arrangement because it allows more funding to help the program grow."

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