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UJA-Federation of New York's Janet Cohen

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Janet Cohen, the director of conference and banquet services for UJA-Federation of New York, oversees the logistics of roughly 175 events each year— everything from cocktail parties for young donors, panel discussions for corporate givers and large industry specific gala benefits. Cohen oversees a staff of two event planners, plus UJA-Federation's in-house kosher food services and conference center, which hosts 25 to 35 functions a day.

You have so many events. How do you keep track of all the details?

We have extensive event files that go back 10 years, so we have a lot of historical information. Also, I've been in the industry for a number of years, so I'm very familiar with what's out there. We do a lot of the same events, so there is some repetition, which also helps us stay organized.

With so many events, are you able to negotiate volume discounts?

We have locations that give us a set price for the year for both lunch and dinner because we have a long-term relationship and also because of, I guess you could say, volume. Overall, we've maintained good relationships and we're low-maintenance clients because we're very well-versed in what we're doing, so we get good pricing. We're very firm negotiators.

All of your events are kosher. How does that affect your planning?

Whenever we do an event somewhere that already has a food and beverage establishment in place, we have to buy out that venue's food package and bring in a kosher caterer. From a menu planning perspective, what's permitted under kosher dietary laws definitely affects what you are able to do. There are more details that you have to be aware of.

You have a lot of different guests from different industries. How do you make their events fit their needs?

For most of the industry-specific lunches and dinners, people are location-oriented. Even though New York is a huge place, when you need a venue for 300 to 600 people, you have a small inventory. People want to get in and out fast, particularly if it's a lunch, because they want to get back to the office. So location is a big factor. A lot of time people want something different and new, and that's hard because a lot of the more interesting or hip places are in more remote places. It's a balancing act.

How have fund-raising events changed at UJA in the past few years?

With the changes in the economy, there's been a lot of consolidation within various industries. Whereas in any particular industry there used to be a number of events each year, we're now doing one or two events in that industry. Also, there's more competition within philanthropy as a whole, so I think fund-raising has become much more aggressive across the board. But we're still a very event-driven organization. We're definitely engaging with our donors and potential donors all the time and at many events.

What are your biggest challenges?

The request is always for something new or different, but you can't just create a new venue. When Pier Sixty opened up several years ago, we were one of the first events there, and when the Jewish Museum renovated we used it a lot. That's great when you have a new place that opens up and you're the first on the scene, especially if it ties in to your organization. That's great, but that doesn't happen that often.

—Meryl Rothstein

Posted 03.24.04

This Q&A originally appeared in our newspaper, the BiZBash Event Style Reporter.
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