Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Turnaround in Tampa community


Emilie Socash

TAMPA-Five years ago Tampa's Jewish community faced financial challenges similar to Orlando's-bogged down with debt. Among other things, Tampa solved its problems by selling assets and using the proceeds to reduce campus debt-similar to a plan currently being proposed by leaders of Orlando Jewish community.

Tampa had a $4 million mortgage; Orlando, a $5.8 million mortgage. "Like Orlando, the money Tampa was spending to service debt was robbing the community of its potential to fund programs and services," according to community leaders.

Similarly in Orlando, Federation President Michael Soll said, "Money going to the bank just to service debt could be sending kids to Israel, helping Jewish Family Services feed the hungry, supporting programs at our Jewish local organizations, providing scholarship monies for families to send their children to the JCC summer camp or the Jewish Academy, and making needed renovations on the campus."

This is what Tampa did to turn its situation completely around:

A capital campaign was launched to raise funds to pay down the debt using naming opportunities that had not already been used on the campus. Three million dollars were raised.

For more than 30 years Tampa operated two HUD-subsidized apartment complexes for seniors. The buildings were 'owned' and managed by two separate non-profit boards governed by Jewish community members. Both boards agreed, after much discussion, to sell the properties and donate the net proceeds of approximately $5.5 million to the Tampa Jewish Community Center and Federation. Among many other things, it paid off the remaining money owed on the campus.

With the debt now in the rearview window and with sizeable reserves, suddenly the Tampa Jewish community's future looked much rosier. The JCC/Federation and its beneficiary agencies had the resources needed to embark on several exciting new projects.

There was considerable due diligence completed on the non-profit organization that bought the properties and, according to residents, the two facilities are managed as effectively as before, if not better. Just as important, the organization that bought the properties signed a long-term lease with the JCC/Federation for approximately 1,100 square feet of space in one of the buildings for one dollar per year. The space is used for Jewish programming for the residents as well as seniors in the community.

Additionally, a strong and successful effort was made to improve the 'businesses' the JCC/Federation was involved in. The JCC preschool and the assisted living facility the organization owns improved management and started to generate profits. These profits were used to improve both entities and subsidize other key community endeavors. Additional funds were secured from a new emphasis on corporate sponsorship of different JCC/Federation initiatives.

More than $200,000 per year now comes into the organization from the corporate sector to enhance and subsidize long-established programs as well as to launch new ones.

Once the debt was paid off, it became easier to raise money for the annual campaign since the organization was fiscally sound, and donors could see their money at work funding agencies and programs rather than servicing debt.

Many years ago, the Jewish community leaders in Tampa realized that neither the JCC nor the Federation were achieving their potential because, in part, both were spending precious resources on similar programs, services and infrastructure support activities.

For example, there were two accounting departments, one of many duplicative services. Both organizations were aggressively competing for community contributions and some donors felt aggravated, frustrated, and fatigued by this competition.

When the two agencies merged in 1995, significant money was saved by integrating programming, back office activities, fundraising and marketing. At the time, this was a radical move by both organizations-there were only a handful of these types of merged entities in the country-but this strategy has now been implemented by a large number of JCCs and federations across the country. Many more are considering moving in this direction.

Like all Jewish communities and organizations, the Tampa Jewish community and its JCC/Federation still face many challenges, but they have also made tremendous strides forward. The organization has zero debt, has raised more money than ever before for its annual campaign and subsequently increased its allocations and grants significantly, has invested more than a half million dollars in enhancing its campus in the past two years, and has recently launched a $20 million plus capital campaign to build another campus in South Tampa.

In just the past six months, without using any of its reserves, the organization has already raised more than $9 million for this project. There seems to be no reason why the kind of steps that turned around the Tampa Jewish community can't be modified to fit Orlando.

Orlando Federation President Michael Soll, told about Tampa's turnaround, said, "If Tampa could do it, so can we."

Emilie Socash is the Executive Director at T.O.P. Jewish Foundation Inc.


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