It’s official: Incoming S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation President Nancy Grand and her husband, Stephen, are the nation’s most generous donors to Jewish causes, according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy annual survey. The San Francisco couple gave more than $20 million in 2010.
What the survey didn’t mention was that Nancy Grand was once a struggling single mother who reached out to her local Jewish federation for urgently needed financial aid.
The federation in her native Detroit gave her a loan to pay Jewish nursery school tuition. Her gratitude led to her volunteering for the federation, and as Grand’s fortunes improved, so did her dedication.
She never forgot how she got help when she needed it.
That partly explains her lifelong devotion to federations, both in Detroit and here in the Bay Area. Grand will assume the presidency of the federation in July when she replaces Jim Koshland, who has served in the post for three years.
She looks forward to the job, especially during the centennial year. Grand has a ready explanation for the federation’s longevity.
“No matter what people say,” she says, “no matter how assimilated a population becomes, people still want to feel a connection to a community. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. This is human as well as Jewish. Federation offers them that.”
Grand has vast federation experience, most of it back in her hometown, where she served in a variety of volunteer posts, including campaign chair.
In the Detroit area, she says, Jewish agencies accepted the centrality of the federation. In her eight years in the Bay Area, she has learned a different dynamic.
“Here it is far more diverse, far more assimilated,” Grand says. “The federation can’t be everything to everybody.”
Nevertheless, she believes in a strong federation that can bolster community agencies and develop capital projects. That takes money, something the former Dale Carnegie Training instructor has no problem eliciting.
“My emphasis is on not apologizing when you ask people for money,” she says. “When you take a job like mine, you have to wear the whole community hat [and] have a holistic, global view of strengthening the community.”
The man she replaces, Koshland, is a dedicated federation activist who comes from a long line of philanthropists and activists with the family name.
“When I consider the long history of my family’s involvement with the federation,” Koshland says, “I have a renewed appreciation for their efforts, and the efforts of so many people that have made and continue to make the federation an invaluable community resource.”
Koshland adds that he is happy to turn over the reins, though he considers his presidency one of the most rewarding experiences of his life.
“We’ve encountered some difficult issues over the past three years, the economy being the biggest,” he says, “but we are well positioned with Nancy Grand coming in and Jennifer Gorovitz in the CEO’s office to move the federation, and the community, forward.”
The work of the federation attracted Grand when she and her husband moved to the Bay Area in 2003. The only people they knew were two federation activists she’d known from her work on the board of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
Recalls Grand, “I said to them, ‘You know I’m a worker. Can you fix me up?’ Everyone I met was through federation. That was my ‘in’ to the community.”
Now that she’s all the way in, she must figure out how to keep the federation financially robust and how best to take Bay Area Jewish life into the future.
Both daunting tasks, but Grand is up for the challenge.
“When I serve an ideal I believe in, an institution I believe in, it’s a purposeful existence,” she says. “It’s the way I like to spend my time … What a great thing, to wake up and it’s not about me.”