Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, has just voted in a new national president, so we thought it would be a good time to check in with the venerable but embattled organization.
Hadassah recently agreed to pay $45 million to settle with the court-appointed trustee in the Bernard Madoff bankruptcy. The settlement was first announced on December 9, 2010. After investing $33 million over the two decades before Madoff’s Ponzi scheme collapsed in 2008, Hadassah withdrew $137 million. Hadassah raises money in the U.S. and internationally to fund Hadassah hospital and other projects in Israel. The group’s Madoff problem, coupled with the recession, led Hadassah to lay off about one third of its staff in 2008 and 2009, and to undergo a restructuring over the past two years.
Read a Q&A with incoming national president Marcie Natan and outgoing national president Nancy Falchuk after the jump.
We interviewed incoming national president Marcie Natan, a long-time leader at the volunteer-run organization, and Nancy Falchuk, who will complete four terms as national president when Natan fully takes the reigns in July. The interview was conducted, condensed and edited by Debra Nussbaum Cohen.
Debra Nussbaum Cohen: What is Hadassah’s current fiscal state?
Natan: We are really coming out of a couple of years of very serious financial setbacks. We’re beginning to see a turnaround here and are about to go into our centennial year. We are energized and focused on completing the inpatient hospital tower [named the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower] and looking forward to celebrating the centennial and the Hadassah hospital tower’s dedication in October 2012.
I come in with four years as our national treasurer and was very focused on that during the time period of my tenure as treasurer so I have a good background and support of our staff and volunteers here.
What is the continuing impact of the Madoff settlement? Where was the money for the settlement obtained?
Falchuk: The Picard settlement is done, we are ready to move on. For us it’s done. It’s all in the letter [she sent to Hadassah’s membership and the press announcing the settlement]. It tells the entire story. For us the door is closed on this, it’s over.
Natan: It’s not that we’re being evasive, everything is in the letter.
What is Hadassah’s budget for 2011?
Falchuk: We’re looking at it with a lot of the divisions [of the organization] and I’m not prepared to discuss it now because we’re reviewing it with them.
Natan: The goal we are working toward is to have that budget come in so the funds we are able to raise will meet the budget. For us a deficit means we are forced to rely on unrestricted funds.
Falchuk: We have a lot of [projects we support and our expenditures on this side of the ocean need to be looked at and put in line with current needs. We’re trying to avoid deficits, to be able save, we have done very well in the market and in fundraising. We’re just about there.
Natan: Once we complete the analysis with our division the budget we hope to bring in will be in line with the fundraising we bring in.
How many members does Hadassah currently have and what is their average age?
Natan: We have about 300,000 members and we will soon have more. We just started a $100 life membership enrollment fee in honor of our centennial. One of our chapter presidents in Florida said last week she has already enrolled 800 new members and she just started this on January 2nd.
Falchuk: We have 24 chapters internationally. With envelopes still unopened we have 2,700 new members. The life membership fee was $360 before the centennial.
Natan: We don’t really know the average age of our members. We don’t see birth dates when we bring in our members. We know that we’re not a young —
Falchuk (interrupting): If you look around at our leadership we’re a microcosm. I looked back in our archives to 1920s and ’30s, and in minutes the biggest conversation was always “how do we attract the young?”
Natan: We don’t have any preggies but we have women with very young children on our national board, meaning they have reached the level of regional or chapter presidents. I just challenged the two young national board members who just came back from a young leaders mission with setting up the next one. We find that if we take them to Israel they are connected to us for life and bringing their friends to Hadassah as well.