April 2, 2012

processing the boxes of Federation executive Joseph Willen

Filed under: early history, the process of archival processing — thiscangobacktothearchives @ 10:12 am

In our first shipment of archival material from offsite storage (see earlier blog entries for photographs), we processed eight boxes of material from Joseph Willen’s tenure as Executive Vice President and Executive Consultant at the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York.

So far, the material processed has been mostly material from 1938-1945 (including material from before his time as Vice President) and 1967-1975 (material from his work as an FJP consultant). This last Thursday, along with many other boxes, we have received another 32 boxes of archival material related to Joseph Willen from offsite storage. With the new shipment, we hope to expand our collection to include the rest of his tenure as Executive Vice President, roughly from 1945-1967.

To account for some of our great anticipation associated with receiving and processing additional Willen material, here is a portion of a draft of our historical/biographical note for Willen (which will be further augmented after the new shipment of material has been processed):

Alongside Dr. Maurice Hexter, Joseph Willen was appointed executive vice-president of the organization in 1942. During his time as Executive Vice President, Willen actively participated in the merger with the Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities (1943), the successful Building Fund for Expansion, Modernization, and Research (1945-1947), the significant expansion of services and assistance to veterans, families, and the elderly, and aided in the City of Life Campaign and Building Fund (1962-1967).

Even before his tenure as Executive Vice President, Joseph Willen was relied upon as an exceptional and innovative fund-raiser. In the article by Jack Wertheimer, “Current Trends in American Jewish Philanthropy,” the author cited Carl Bakal (author of Charity U.S.A.) as suggesting that Joseph Willen invented the practice of publicly calling on a donor to announce how much the donor will be giving, often known as “card-calling,” at fund-raising dinners. Willen enlisted the aid of Felix Warburg to begin the practice of “card-calling” in the 1930s at Federation dinners or events. In the Wertheimer article, Willen offers “that for a person to show off his wealth by conspicuous spending …was considered good form, whereas conspicuous giving was considered bad form…Why couldn’t more modest givers also give conspicuously, simply by announcing their gifts?” (Page 11).  Willen distinguished himself with fund-raising practices like “card-calling” or the successful 1944 Campaign without a Fixed Quota, where “[o]ur quota will be the conscience, the foresight, and the courage of the Jewish community…its readiness to prepare for the returning soldier and the needs of the post-war world…its will to build a finer community” (Golden Heritage, 72). Throughout his career, Willen brought a level of professionalism to the business of fund-raising for a philanthropic organization. Together, Willen and Hexter “organized fund-raising campaigns that brought in more than $1 billion” dollars (New York Times, July 10, 1985).

In 1967, Joseph Willen retired from his position as Executive Vice President to become an Executive Consultant and remained a consultant until the 1980s. He passed away on July 6, 1988 at Mount Sinai Medical Center, an institution that Joseph Willen helped raise funds for and expand the mission of as Executive Vice President of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York.

In the coming weeks, we look forward to completing the processing of the Willen boxes and adding to the draft of the note you (hopefully) just read above.


  1. I am Joseph Willen’s daughter. We were unaware of these archives. Who is involved and what institution are hee being kept at?? epmail me at or call 518-325-3010


    Comment by debmeier — May 27, 2013 @ 5:43 pm

    • Last year, I processed the papers of your father in his capacity as Executive Vice President of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York. Along the way and as part of the project, I wrote blog posts about interesting things found in Mr. Willen’s archival material, which you have now found. I am very glad that you have discovered the blog about processing the UJA-Federation archival material and, further, a connection to the professional life of your father. We have processed about 31 boxes of your father’s correspondence and subject files from his tenure as Executive Vice President and, later, as a consultant to the Federation. Also, we have completed the digitization of the UJA-Federation’s oral histories that the organization recorded from 1982-2003, including the Oral History of Janet Younker Willen (which can be found at


      Comment by thiscangobacktothearchives — June 14, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

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