Joy Sisisky in her office at the Jewish Community Federation in San Francisco. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Joy Sisisky in her office at the Jewish Community Federation in San Francisco. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

The Federation as a center for Jewish philanthropy, today and always

In 2016, I moved from New York City to San Francisco to assume the role of chief philanthropy officer at the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. It was an incredible opportunity to work with a Federation known as a trailblazer in Jewish philanthropy.

For more than a century, since 1910, the Federation has thrived as a central address for serving the needs of the Jewish community. During that time, the Federation has reinvented itself time and again to meet the challenges and opportunities involved in shaping and strengthening Jewish life in the Bay Area, Israel and around the world. Today is no different as the Federation evolves to meet the needs of our 21st-century community, responding to the issues of our time while securing the future for generations to come.

To adapt to a Jewish and philanthropic landscape that has dramatically changed over the last 25 years, the Federation is shifting to a foundation-forward model.

This model, detailed in our new strategic plan, is about our evolution to become a world-class center for Jewish philanthropy focused on Jewish giving, philanthropy advisory and collaborative philanthropy. The goal is to engage more people in philanthropy at all levels, to mobilize more resources, and to strengthen Jewish organizations to secure a vibrant Jewish future in the Bay Area, Israel and globally. The plan is about the best ways for our community to generate the resources we need to do that.

Whether you are donating to the Federation’s annual campaign, making a planned gift through the Centennial campaign or giving through your Federation donor-advised fund, you are supporting the organization and the Jewish community. Every gift strengthens Jewish life by providing scholarships to preschools, day schools and camps, fights antisemitism, cares for those in need locally and in Jewish communities in Israel and around the world, and provides urgent support to respond to emergencies, including and especially the Israel-Hamas war.

The strategic plan also enhances our philanthropy advisory services and collaborative advisory. Simply, this means that through giving circles, impact loans and other avenues, more people will have ways to create meaningful impact in the community, at any giving level.

We are building on decades of success and impact. The Federation has granted more than $1 billion in philanthropic capital in the last five years. Last year alone, the Federation granted and loaned $241 million, including 12,000 grants to hundreds of Jewish and nonsectarian causes. The Federation is the single largest funder of Jewish causes in California and already one of the largest Jewish community foundations in North America.

When I assumed the role of chief executive officer last year, we initiated a strategic planning process to secure the long-term sustainability of Federation and to create greater impact in the community. To do so, we started by looking at our underlying business model, which was heavily dependent on donations and reserves. Only 34% of total revenue came from administrative fees, primarily from donor-advised funds. In traditional community foundations, approximately 75% of revenue is generated from fees. Our fees were reviewed this year and deemed to be competitive and fair in the marketplace.

For more than a century, the Federation has thrived as a central address for serving the needs of the Jewish community.

Federation donors choose to have their funds with us, as opposed to a bank, because at its core, the heart and soul of Federation is a thriving Jewish community.

The fees we generate from donor-advised funds ensure the sustainability of the Federation to serve the long-term needs of the community. Of every dollar donated to the annual campaign, 100 percent goes directly to grants, Federation programs and services that strengthen the Jewish communal ecosystem.

In June, the board then chaired by Arthur Slepian, and now Eileen Ruby, overwhelmingly voted to support a five-year plan of transformation. Implementation is underway.

The mission of the Federation is timeless: to inspire the collective action of the community to build flourishing Jewish communities.

The Israel-Hamas war highlights the vital role of a strong Federation and center for Jewish philanthropy. In seven weeks after Oct. 7, we raised $20 million, twice as much money as we do all year, for urgent, emergency humanitarian relief in Israel. We also funded increased local needs such as enhanced security, relocation of Israeli families to the Bay Area, mental health services and more. The Federation’s strategic plan positions us to be flexible to meet the moment and evolve in the ways that benefit the community and Jewish people most.

The Bay Area is known for innovation and a spirit of entrepreneurship; it’s one of the reasons that drew me and my family to San Francisco. I feel blessed to work at the Federation at a time when our leaders are willing to make important changes for the sake of the community and to shape this exciting next chapter in our story.

Whether you were involved with Federation in the past, or never at all, this is an exciting time to be a part of something meaningful. Please consider this an invitation to join us — together we can shine a light to drive away darkness during Hanukkah and throughout the year.

Joy Sisisky in her office at the Jewish Community Federation in San Francisco. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Joy Sisisky

Joy Sisisky is CEO of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund based in San Francisco.