In a year that included a pandemic, a major economic downturn and a cyber-hacking incident, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington raised 25 percent more money during 2020 than it had the previous year.
“People who were able gave significantly more money,” said Federation CEO Gil Preuss.
The Federation is the organized Jewish community’s central planning and allocations agency. It reported it raised $42.9 million from 8,000 donors during its 2020 fundraising campaign. That is an increase of 150 donors over the previous year.
Half of those funds, $21.3 million, were part of its annual campaign. That includes $1.5 million committed to programs focused on “building and sustaining a vibrant Jewish community by caring for individuals and families in need,” according to Preuss.
An additional $6.3 million was raised specifically for COVID-19 relief, including food, rental and mortgage assistance for 1,300 people in the Jewish community. The Federation contributed $500,000 from its emergency reserve to the $6.3 million figure, Preuss said.
The final $15.3 million includes funds entrusted to Federation’s United Jewish Endowment Fund. The United Jewish Endowment fund was the target of a cyber attack in which $7.5 million was taken from one organization’s funds. The Federation manages these funds.
During the 2019 fundraising campaign, $21.3 million was raised, including $19.8 million for the Core Campaign and $1.5 million for Federation’s priority areas.
The summer’s hacking incident, which was discovered on Aug. 4 and announced on Sept. 2, did not adversely affect fundraising, Preuss said. Federation ended the year with more agencies having added their endowments to the United Jewish Endowment Fund.
Also, “We did not have withdrawals from the endowment funds,” he said.
Neither the FBI nor the Justice Department “are telling us much,” Preuss said about the investigation into the theft, which was launched from the laptop of a Federation employee.
Preuss said, as far as he knows, there have been no arrests in connection with the hacking. He said he does not believe it was an inside job by a Federation employee. And he does not believe there was an anti-Semitic motive. Cyber attacks in the nonprofit world are on the rise in general, he said.
Following expert advice, Federation has changed how it conducts its business and protects its accounts. “We have made significant changes,” both technologically and personally, he said.
Some of those changes include working with a team of legal and cybersecurity experts to investigate and contain the impact of the incident, immediately notifying banks in any future incident to stem further loss of funds, and requiring all employees to comply with updated protocols and participate in ongoing advanced cyber training.
The Federation has scanned all its computers and servers to check on security, and it hired forensic accounting experts to audit its funds and ensure no other funds had been hacked, Preuss said.
Preuss said he believes that The Federation will recoup most of the $7.5 million, but it has yet to receive one dime. “It takes a while,” he noted.
He declined to answer other questions about the possible fallout of the theft: Whether the $7.5 million loss has affected that particular fund, and if insurance will cover any lost interest or earnings the fund would have made.
“Because this case is open and in process with the insurance company, we are not at liberty to comment on specifics,” he said. “However, we can say that we are actively working with the insurance companies and law enforcement to get back the money that was stolen.”
Amid the pandemic and the economic downturn, last summer The Federation eliminated or consolidated 21 jobs, resulting in 13 layoffs, Preuss said.
Other Jewish agencies in the area face a projected $17.5 million shortfall in their budgets during the next three to four years due to lost revenues and increased costs, according to The Federation.
“2020 asked a lot of our community, and Jewish Greater Washington responded with generosity and compassion,” Preuss said. “The overwhelming positive response to our fundraising efforts is evidence that a sense of belonging and sustaining our ties to one another are vital to the human spirit.
“Everyone really stepped up,” he said. “People are working together in ways they never did before. I am very optimistic about what we can do in this coming year.”