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What is Membership, really?

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In the course of processing the archives of the HIAS Membership department over recent months, a few questions have echoed in my mind: Why does the agency solicit for membership, rather than just donations? Why is membership so important? What does it actually mean to be a HIAS member?

It seems that the answers may be related in part to HIAS’s institutional membership in Federation, and the Federation fund-raising structure designed to maximize effective giving and reduce competition among Jewish charities. The following records in the HIAS archives collection, dating to the 1980s and 90s, have helped me to understand this subject a little better.

(For more on the different types of membership campaigns run by the department, see this post.)

 

Member versus contributor

In 1984, newly appointed Executive Vice President Karl Zukerman investigated this topic (see bullet point seven):

 

 

Importance of membership

A 1980 letter from Annette Eskind and Walter Bieringer, co-chairs of the Membership Committee, discussed the “clout” a large membership brought the agency in its negotiations with government bodies:

 

 

Federation considerations

In a 1981 membership campaign report, Director of Fund Raising Hyman Brickman referred to membership campaigns versus other methods of bringing in money:

“While the timing of a campaign is dictated by the Federation, the timing of our request for a campaign is our own choosing. It should not be done while the allocations procedure is underway or an appeal for reconsideration has been filed, lest the community look upon its approval of a campaign as absolving it from giving us our request in full or considering supplementary funding. We must keep the two items separate and apply our maximum efforts to both.”

 

In the same report, Brickman provided an update on campaign prospects in a community that had not been solicited for membership recently. He described the situation this way:

“The community has not allocated to HIAS for many years, and this problem must first be addressed before we go further with membership, since the latter is intended to supplement the allocation and not be a substitute for it.”

 

In 1984, Manfred Weil, a Membership Committee member who for years ran a successful “personal campaign” for HIAS in Rhode Island, wrote to committee chair Eskind, stressing to taking care not to conflict with any Federation fund-raising efforts, “even though the appeal is only for membership.”  (see page two below)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A 1992 memo from Executive Vice President Martin Wenick to President Martin Kesselhaut referred to the distinction between fund-raising efforts and membership campaigns:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also included among the Membership records are these local Federation guidelines for independent and supplementary campaigns (see especially page two):

 

 

 

 

 

 

(HIAS membership dues were $50 annually, which is the same amount cited in these guidelines.)

 

Another Federation granted approval for a HIAS campaign to its members because the solicitation amount fell within a prescribed range:

 

What it means to be a member

Note: This subject relates to the question of what membership is all about, but it doesn’t appear to have anything to do with Federation.

In 1984, Eskind, who conducted many successful “personal campaigns” for HIAS over a period of years, wrote to Brickman on the subject of membership benefits:

“As requested by you, my personal view on ‘membership benefits’ reflects the comments expressed at the last Board meeting. I do not believe that a group insurance or travel program will enhance membership. I do feel that a well-planned membership drive, appropriate for each community, will be far more productive.”

 

In the same 1985 membership campaign report cited earlier, Eskind gave a matter-of-fact description of membership (she was discussing campaign prospects in a region that already supported many active volunteer membership groups):

“It is hard to say whether: a) the community would respond to a ‘newcomer’ that is essentially a paper membership, b) the federation would authorize a campaign (their regular campaign has dropped considerably mainly because of a high unemployment rate, necessitating a cut in our allocation after it was made), and c) the federation would, if it did grant clearance, make its lists available. On the positive side is the fact that we have acquired two new Board members from the community. The issue will be explored further with them.”

 

If I come across any additional documents that shed light on this topic, I’ll be sure to do another post.

 

 

Sources

Collection: I-363 HIAS; Subseries: Development; Subsubseries: Membership; Subsubsubseries: Subjects.

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