HIAS Women’s Division

Women’s Division—Audio-Visual Mobile Unit, 1950s.

When the Women’s Division came into existence as an auxiliary group to HIAS, their original, main purpose was to raise money for larger-scale international endeavors. In addition to this task, its members also took on more personally-connecting roles with incoming immigrants.

In the early years, Women’s Division members volunteered at the Lafayette street shelter, ran a thrift shop whose proceeds went to HIAS, and began personally meeting incoming planes carrying refugees at JFK airport.

Although membership and volunteer activity with the Women’s Division surged after WWII, by the 1980s and 1990s, initiative and group attendance was waning. Many of the previously active members had grown too old for volunteering and changes needed to be made in order to maintain the solvency of the Division as a whole. With work, HIAS sparked interest in a large contingent of Russian women in particular, displaced from the Soviet Union and searching for supportive communities in the city. They found solace in the Women’s Division, providing boosting membership numbers, much-needed clerical help, and translation services. These women found for themselves a sense of purpose and strength with others in similarly isolating circumstances.

At the Women’s Division Board meeting on April 8 [1991] it became even more apparent that we will need to infuse new blood into the Division if it is to survive at all…It seems clear that developing [new] chapters of Russian women is the way to breathe new life into the WD and at the same time increase HIAS membership.  –Carolyn Agress to Roberta Elliott, April 10, 1991

There were several Division chapters in NYC, scattered around the different neighborhoods, all with their own unique roster of leadership, meeting schedules, and fundraising techniques. A representative from each of these chapters was elected to be part of the larger Women’s Division Board, and the president of this board represented everyone at the general HIAS Executive Committee meetings.

At the time of the resignation of Women’s Division President Arline Bronzaft in 1994, only two chapters were still functioning in NYC. By 1998, we know that the auxiliary group had been dissolved (or at the very least was soon to be), due to this template draft written on behalf of HIAS President Norman D. Tilles and Executive VP Martin A. Wenick:

DRAFT-Letter re Women’s Division, undated. I-363, Executive Office Subject Files, HIAS—Women’s Division.

 

 

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What is Membership, really?

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.

  • The 1992 memo from Wenick to Kesselhaut may be found in the Federations—Campaign Permission Letter folder.
  • The Federation Guidelines for Campaigns document is in a folder titled Federations—Allocations.
  • All other documents are from the Membership Committee folder.

The 1993 Los Angeles Membership Campaign

The HIAS Membership Department was responsible for running fundraising appeals through the mail. These fundraising appeals were known at the agency as membership campaigns. In today’s blog post, we’ll take a look at what was involved in organizing and executing a campaign, using the records of the 1993 Los Angeles appeal as a kind of case study.

 

In June of 1993, Carolyn Agress, Director for Membership Services & Women’s Division, wrote to HIAS board member Judith Sommerstein to follow up on their conversation at the recent Annual Meeting.  It seems they had discussed membership campaigns, with Sommerstein expressing interest in participating.

In the letter, Agress explained how these campaigns worked:

  • The Membership Department would first provide the board member with a copy of the solicitation letter (the “ask”) for that year.
  • The board member would edit the solicitation letter if they saw fit, in order to tailor it to the concerns and issues of their community. The final version would be signed by the board member.
  • The board member would provide HIAS with the names and addresses of personal and professional contacts they wanted to solicit.
  • HIAS would add these names to the list of members in the board member’s geographical region.
  • HIAS would have the letters printed and sent out, along with a membership dues form and a return envelope.

Letter from Agress to Sommerstein:


This appears to be the solicitation letter Agress included, sent back with Sommerstein’s comments on front and back:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The records include memos and notes about the logistics of carrying out the campaign, such as this one dated August 18, 1993:

On August 19th, Agress sent Sommerstein another copy of the solicitation letter, which Sommerstein sent back with comments:

 

 

 

 

 

 

(It was not typical that HIAS would request comments on the solicitation twice; this seems to be an aberration, or we may just not have all the information about what happened.)

This appears to be the final draft of the text:

The letters that actually went out included the name and address of the member, as well as a personal salutation, as in the earlier draft. HIAS provided the printing company with a copy of the board member’s signature to place in the closing.

In September, the Membership Department sent Sommerstein an update on the results of the campaign. Many of the campaign files contain computer reports on how the campaign did, and sometimes multiple updates would be sent to the board member, but for Los Angeles in 1993, there’s just this one:

The last step was for the Membership Department to send thank you letters for the donations, whether from a new or renewing member.

Then the next year, the whole process would be repeated, with the board member adding new names to their list, and often crossing out those of any friends who had passed away. Not all board members participated in campaigns year after year, but many did. Those records are very interesting for learning about board members’ devotion to the mission of HIAS, the relationships of mutual respect they developed with Carolyn Agress and other staff, and the tireless efforts to craft the most effective “asks” possible.

 

Archival documents referenced in this post may be found in the 104 Los Angeles campaign files under Development—Membership—Campaigns. Final box number will most likely be 0297.

HIAS Council of Organizations

The HIAS collection contains a limited number of files from the Fundraising Department. These files are being processed now, and as we learn more about fundraising techniques in the second half of the 20th century we will write about it in a blog post and in the finding aid that will be available at the end of the project.

One small group of files, photographs and printed material is from the HIAS Council of Organizations, which seems to have been successful in the post-World War II years in New York. The Council apparently thrived in a number of Jewish organizations in the 1950s-1970s. I first learned about the Council of Organizations while processing the UJA-Federation of New York collection; the following is from the historical note from that finding aid:

The Council of Organizations, a department within the Fundraising and Campaigns division of UJA of Greater New York, organized Yiddish-speaking community-based councils (similar to Landsmanschaften) into fundraising groups. These groups raised money for specific UJA projects in Israel. Many of the projects included funding the building of new schools, medical facilities, libraries, playgrounds, community centers and other public buildings. Joseph Masliansky was the Director of the Council of Organizations in approximately the 1970s through 1982.

The Council of Organizations files from HIAS are not yet refoldered and arranged, but a 4-page history of the Council at HIAS from 1954 provides a snapshot view of its size and involvements at mid-century, which was probably written by the longtime head of the Council, Louis Gallack:

History and Description of HIAS' Council of Organizations, 1954
History of HIAS Council of             Organizations, 1954, page 1
History, page 2
History, page 3
History, page 4