We have reached the point of great potential for expanding and deepening the partnerships between Jewish Federations and a host of concerned private foundations in a way that could be transformational for Federations, foundations, and the American Jewish community.

Working apart, our potential is limited; but, by combining the thinking of the talented and caring people involved with Federations and foundations, we can generate great world-changing visions and innovative ideas for the types of programs, which up to now, we have only been able to dream about.

At a time when the economy has slowed, many may think that Federations run the risk of being forced to narrow their vision and retreat to survival mode. But, given their experience and expertise, Federations still have vast potential to leverage relationships that span the intellectual and financial leadership of their communities. They also have the capacity to link ideas, institutions and agencies within and outside the traditional Federation “system of agencies.”

At the same time, private foundations have their own direction, dreams and heartfelt visions for the future. Unfortunately, they frequently lack the type of valuable resources available to Federations for turning their dreams into reality — institutional networks, resources, or connections to other foundations or philanthropists.

Traditionally, the Federation links a short term, undesignated annual campaign to a short term annual allocation cycle. In theory, it’s a way to provide for true communal decision-making and shared responsibility, and generally works very well in supporting ongoing causes. In practice, this annual cycle makes it difficult for Federations to act quickly to meet rapidly changing needs or take on large-scale “transformational” projects.

Breaking from our traditional pattern, partnerships between Federations and foundations can and should become our most important new frontier. We say this because it has become very clear that foundations can move far more rapidly than the traditional Federation in meeting new cries for help, developing large scale solutions to important communal needs, and encouraging far more giving by inspiring contributors, foundations, and individuals who witness its bold successes.

The dedication, commitment, and focus that a foundation brings to righting a wrong or solving a problem is rarely duplicated by large organizations such as Federations, which incorporate many interests and many initiatives on many fronts. But, by working together, a focused drive in one targeted area can enhance the mission of a the larger organization while providing it with new energy, new ideas, and most important, real examples of Federations’ ability to make real change happen in real time.

A partnership success story

Our recent experience in Boston with funding a massive day-school initiative is a great example of the incredible potential of the Federation/Foundation partnership. Nearly $50 million was raised through CJP (Boston’s Federation) and a consortium of Jewish family foundations for day school excellence, affordability and services for students with disabilities.

As part of this initiative, the Ruderman Family Foundation played a major leadership role through its support of CJP, striving to meet the educational needs of children with disabilities through the creation of a new organization (Gateways) and vastly increased support for services within the Jewish Community in the area of vocational services and Jewish education.

This convergence of donor passion and emergent opportunity allowed us to raise vast new resources and turn foundation passion into a vibrant national movement on behalf of Jews with disabilities.

The Jewish Community faces many new challenges and wonderful new opportunities. A renewed and institutionalized Federation-foundation partnership should anchor an era of Jewish renewal, which for the American Jewish community must be our very best dream and our highest priority.

Barry Shrage is President of Combined Jewish Philanthropies and Jay Ruderman is President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.