MONTREAL — As head of a large publicly traded corporation, Martin Schwartz is used to thinking in terms of the bottom line.
Martin Schwartz and Nancy Ditkofsky head up the 2011 Combined Jewish Appeal campaign.
As general chair of the 2011 Combined Jewish Appeal (CJA), he’s expecting results as well.
Schwartz is CEO of Dorel Industries, a manufacturer of juvenile furniture and bicycles (it lays claim to being the world’s largest maker of car seats).
He and women’s campaign chair Nancy Ditkofsky are aiming to raise about $40 million, the amount CJA was collecting a few years ago.
Last year’s campaign and the 2009 drive both grossed less than $37 million.
As a personal fitness trainer, Ditkofsky also is accustomed to setting goals.
The two chairs believe they can persuade donors to contribute more and can find new donors by educating them about the reality that a significant proportion of the Montreal Jewish community is struggling.
“Not many realize that there are families with little means or with problems. There are kids going to school hungry. Then there are the elderly on fixed incomes who have trouble making ends meet,” Schwartz said.
“We’re trying to tell donors these problems are not going away. They are getting greater.”
In addition to a high poverty rate and percentage of seniors, there are a growing number of Jewish families who are considered middle class but are having a hard time financing the life that has become the norm.
“A household income of $120,000 or $130,000 may sound like a lot, but if you have two or three kids going to a Jewish school and they go to Jewish summer camp, it doesn’t go that far,” said Schwartz. “The middle class is being squeezed.”
Ditkofsky likes to show, not just tell, people where the money goes. A favourite destination is Le Café, which serves close to 500 free suppers to anyone in need.
Jewish education is another priority. More subsidies of tuition and improvement of schools, physically and pedagogically, would be possible with a greater CJA return, they say.
This year, the federation allocated $32.2 million, the net proceeds to the 2010 campaign. Seventy-three per cent was spent locally. That was up $800,000 from the year before, but when inflation is taken into account, it is, in effect, a flat budget.
The number of donors was just over 16,000, including 1,000 new givers or those who had not given in several years. Schwartz and Ditkofsky believe that number could be improved in a community the size of Montreal, and they’re aiming for 1,500.
(CJA also received $1 million from Centraide, which is designated for four agencies.)
Finding new people is imperative because an aging community means traditional donors are lost every year, she noted.
“Sometimes their children are involved, but sometimes they are not, and this can hurt the community,” Ditkofsky said.
CJA offers new types of programming to attract people who are otherwise not affiliated with the federation. It even goes into the schools to bring its message.
The task is made more difficult by the fact that the community’s “lost generation” – Jews between the ages of roughly 35 and 50 – are scarce, Ditkofsky said.
They note that CJA’s overhead – less than 10 per cent – is probably among the lowest of any major charitable organization in Quebec, and maybe Canada.
Costs are kept down thanks to a determined effort to find corporate sponsorships. “None of the costs for events comes out of donors’ money,” Schwartz said. “We want to be as transparent as possible on how money is spent.”
Last year, major businesses such as banks and insurance companies contributed over $900,000, and CJA hopes to top that this year.
Ditkofsky (née Mansfield) and Schwartz have personal reasons for their long work on behalf of the federation.
“I am the child of Holocaust survivors. My parents came here with nothing and made a Jewish life. Years ago, I went back to Poland with them, and they pointed out a school that used to be here, a theatre that used to be here – everything was gone,” Ditkofsky said.
“I don’t want that to happen in Montreal. I want to pass on what we have to my children and grandchildren.”
Schwartz considers himself very lucky. “Unlike many others, all of my three kids are permanently established here, as are my five grandkids. I want to make sure the community remains thriving for them.”
The campaign will officially kick off Aug. 25 with an event that promises to be quite different from those in the past. It will be held at Tohu in St. Michel, home of the National Circus School and Cirque du Soleil, as well as a centre for ecological awareness.
There will be a Glee theme, after the popular television show, featuring performances by the four camps under the federation’s auspices, Camp B’nai Brith, the Y Country Camp, Camp Massad and Camp Kinneret.
Schwartz chairs the federation’s Gen J Camping Initiative to revitalize and promote camping as an important vehicle for informal Jewish education, often the only Jewish education the children receive.
“Our campers become our leaders, and our leaders build and maintain our communities, and that is invaluable,” he said.
A campaign highlight will be an address by Hadassah Lieberman, wife of U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, who was a 2004 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.