Making Sense of Federation of Jewish Philanthropy (FJP) Agency Budgets

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I knew that in order to discover why JCCs in New York City began taking government money in the 1960s and ‘70s I would need to read through the accounts and budgets that they submitted to the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York (FJP) during those years. These documents can all be found at the Center for Jewish History; the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York Collection is one of the most expansive, comprehensive, and informative collections held by the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS).

Jewish philanthropic societies, known as Federations, were established beginning in 1895 and proliferated across the United States in the first two decades of the twentieth century. For more on this history, I highly recommend reading Deborah Dash Moore’s classic At Home in America, which discusses the formation of the FJP in chapter six. Federations took on the responsibility for communal fundraising and planning, with the intent of eliminating duplication of agencies, services, and donor solicitation. They created a more efficient system for soliciting donations, eschewing bazaars and raffles and galas for an annual campaign, during which they collected pledges and cash donations from Jewish individuals throughout their metropolitan area. Federation beneficiaries were prohibited from conducting their own fundraising campaigns and obligated to support the Federation’s annual fundraising efforts. Most JCCs, for example, stipulated in their by-laws that members of their Board of Directors make an annual pledge to Federation. Agencies benefitted from this coordination and came to depend on an annual allocation to support their operations and overhead—particularly the maintenance of highly utilized buildings that experienced extensive wear and tear.

New York City's JCCs were guaranteed an annual allocation because they were Federation beneficiary agencies, but the amount could fluctuate from year to year. Each beneficiary agency went through an annual budget review by the Federation Distribution Committee (FDC) to determine how much they would be allocated. This was true for beneficiaries in all of the Federation functional groups, not just JCCs.

The Annual Agency Files are organized by year, and each agency has its own file folder containing the materials that the FDC’s review process generated each year. At minimum, the file folder always contains a multi-page budget worksheets (chronicling that agency’s income and spending for the last fiscal year) and the budget recommendation that the FDC made for that agency for the upcoming fiscal year. Usually the folder also includes: minutes from meetings between the FDC and agency leaders; correspondence about the allocation or requests for additional funds; and an annual document in which an agency responded to FDC questions about specific functions or trends at the agency. Sometimes additional reporting was also added to the folder. This qualitative material is valuable for historians interested in how social welfare agencies prioritized and changed their activities over time, and it is not difficult to parse if one is familiar with organizational history and archival materials. By contrast, when I first encountered the accounting documents, I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at.

From my own experience as a financially independent adult, I understood a few basics about budgeting:

·      All income is listed together, and all expenditures are listed together.

·      “Housing” costs include more than just a rent or mortgage payment. Buildings and spaces are expensive to maintain.

·      There are fixed costs (rent/mortgage) and variable costs (emergency repairs).

·      Labor is always the most expensive item in a budget.

·      The goal is to spend less than you make.

A budget for an institution the size and scope of a community center follows similar principles, but is like a family budget on steroids: the costs are much higher, and there are many more of them. Through slow and careful reading of over twenty years of budgets and accounts for four JCCs, I began to assemble a basic understanding of a) how accounting tables function; b) how JCC finances work; and c) what the FJP wanted to know about their agencies’ financial operation and health.

The easiest place to begin investigating how the budget tables worked was to take one JCC's budget from a given year and to examine the section listing their income, because their funding did not come from very many places. Although they charged an annual membership fee and smaller fees for other special programs (like dance or music classes, or drama programs, for example), the majority of the money that New York City JCCs made came in the form of their annual allocation from the FJP. As a result, there were very few line items, and most were pretty self-evident from their short description—day camp fees, art classes, and towel and locker rentals being a few examples.

Expenditures make up the vast majority of each budget, particularly salary lines and overhead costs for the building and administration of JCC programs (such as utilities, educational supplies, and insurance). The first two pages of the budget list the total amount spent for each line item, but on later pages the individual expenses are broken out and elaborated upon. The total amount spent on salaries, for example, would be listed the first page, but on later pages each individual role (like Executive Director or Group Worker) would be listed along with the annual salary paid or the employee’s rate per hour and number of hours worked. This was also done with administrative expenses and maintenance costs, so it’s possible to trace how much an agency spent each year on items as varied as telephone calls, food, publicity materials or repainting the walls. I haven't looked deeply at this but if anyone is interested in labor costs in voluntary agencies, or the effects that aging buildings can have on non-profit entities, these budgets offer a wealth of information.

At the top of each budget, the FDC tallied the total amount of income earned by the agency, added to it the amount of the allocation that they disbursed to that JCC for the fiscal year, and then subtracted the total expenses.  In some years, a surplus would remain—but I have found that it was much more common for agencies to run deficits. It was expected that the allocation would cover the JCC’s overhead costs, its administrative costs, and subsidize most of its program. The agency was responsible for raising the balance through membership and program fees. If an agency added new programs, or hired more people, or bought expensive equipment—even if it was absolutely necessary in order to keep the doors open and serve their members—the Board of Directors was responsible for covering the added costs that contributed to a deficit.

In addition to the allocation, the FDC also provided special reserve funds to JCCs for non-recurrent expenses, like to cover start-up costs for new programs, make improvements to facilities, or hire a consultant. Agencies did not always fully indent the reserves they were granted. Federation did careful audits, so there are also plenty of documents in each folder from consultations made by a building inspection firm they used. Every reserve allocation had to be carefully justified. The budgets also demonstrate that the FDC added additional lines to each allocation to pay for employees' insurance and retirement contributions so that the agency did not have to indent their allocation to pay into Social Security or Medicare. Historians interested in employee compensation could use these budgets to track how social welfare organizations covered such costs. Finally, the budgets also include statistical information on JCC membership and enrollment in programs like the nursery school, day camp, and senior center.

If this description makes these documents seem organized or simple, I must confess that there are several pitfalls to examining them over a long durée. The template of the budget sheets changed over time as the FDC changed its accounting practices, making certain comparisons difficult. Also, frustratingly, if the JCC ran any programs that were funded entirely by another source of income (meaning it received zero dollars of support from Federation), the agency did not have to list that form of income. The Federation budgets worksheets, unfortunately, are not a complete accounting record for each agency. 

The FJP Annual Agency Files are nonetheless valuable sources to anyone interested in the history of New York City, social welfare, or American Jewish communal politics. The frequency with which agencies ran deficits raises questions about how, and on what, these agencies spent most of their FJP allocation. By digging into the back pages of the budgets, it’s clear just how many items JCCs had to pay for beyond salaries and space rental—and thus, how often they had to prioritize program maintenance over innovation