Cindy Shapira was recently elected chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and given her prior work with the organization, she certainly recognizes the position’s responsibilities. During a conversation with The Jewish Chronicle, apart from sharing those charges, Shapira also described particular aspirations; more than any other goal, Shapira seeks to achieve “excellence” — a state that she says will be tracked and measured by the Federation’s internal scorecard.
Prior to becoming chair, Shapira served several senior lay-leadership positions within the Federation: She chaired the Jewish Community Foundation, served as co-campaign chair, co-chaired the Centennial Fund for a Jewish Future and volunteered on Federation committees concerning allocations, strategy, administration and compensation. She also holds a number of senior roles within the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Collectively, these positions have encompassed roles she terms as both “fiduciary and strategic.”
“I’ve really enjoyed it all,” Shapira said. “Federation functions as an integrated unit. We can always develop that further, and there isn’t anything so [isolated] that you can’t consider anything else. When you’re talking about budget, you’re also talking about strategy. It’s all critical to running the operation.”
Central to the operation’s success is fundraising. “We have to continue to have a very strong campaign, both annual campaign and supplemental giving,” she said. “We have to keep those at the highest levels.”
With the aid of fellow — and focused — female volunteers co-chairing the annual campaign, Shapira remains optimistic.
“We have a wonderful team with Meryl Ainsman and Linda Joshowitz,” she said. “I think for the first time it’s three women in those positions, and we are very excited.
“I look at the community and want to have the most impact we can have. I look from outside and ask, what do we want to accomplish? Our contribution to that is to be excellent, and that’s kind of my vision.”
Shapira cautioned against rendering this vision a cliche.
“It’s not a platitude but really thinking through what kind of outcomes, impacts — defining excellence that way. What components do we have to have in place as a Federation to make that happen? How do we help our agencies have the most impact? How do we support them and facilitate them so that we are strengthening Jewish identity, engaging people to want to live more Jewishly, to be involved with Israel, to look at issues of poverty, hunger and vulnerability and move the needle on that. Those are the real outcomes that we seek. Our strong fundraising helps us to achieve that.”
“If we really focus on this strategy on excellence we can really make a difference in building identity and engagement in Israel, really do tikun olam.”
While seeking excellence, Shapira hopes that both those familiar with Federation and newcomers to the organization recognize the interconnectedness of donating and investing.
While donating comes from the Jewish values around tzedakah, investing stems from a desire to reap dividends, she explained. The payoff of investing in the Federation is “greater community, stronger Jewish community, the ability to move the needle on people who are vulnerable, to make their lives better. That’s why you want to invest in the Federation because that’s the payoff you’ll get.”
And given the community’s current state, the investment is sound, said Shapira.
“I think our agencies are terrific, our rabbis are outstanding, and we have a really good community. We’re starting from a community where we’re not talking about fixing things but moving the needle. We talk to each other, we support each other, we share ideas. We truly go from strength to strength.”
Nonetheless, Shapira has identified areas for improvement. When describing the Federation’s work within the broader community, Shapira said that better efforts can be made to share that story.
“I want to get the Federation’s name out there more in the community,” she said. “The Federation plays a really important role in the region, in terms of social services in the secular community. I think it’s really important that the community understands that.”
Shapira cited Jewish Family & Children’s Service and its corps of 1,700 volunteers.
“The services and programs they’re offering for new Americans — legal services, the food pantry, SOS, any number of programs and services that are absolutely to the benefit of the greater community — these are projects and initiatives that affect the wider population.
“The JCC also has a number of programs that are utilized by the greater community. So much of our work benefits the greater community, and I’m not sure that’s well understood. It’s not for the sake of our ego; the more we are known, the more we can get resources that can help us do even more.”
During her two years as chair, Shapira will measure success with reliance upon the Community Scorecard, a Federation-developed online tool self-described as designed to assess the organization’s “progress toward becoming a more vibrant, thriving and engaged Jewish community.”
“The metrics that are on the Community Scorecard will be used to measure people’s level of engagement, and we’ll be able to see if collectively we’ve made a difference,” said Shapira.
With tools and support aiding her efforts as chair, Shapira sees a key ally throughout.
“What I will accomplish is within the context of what the community will accomplish. It’s the best relationship.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.