Tuesday, August 20, 2019

AND, NOW, PRESENTING....FEDlab

G-d, I wish we all could return to the days when we would argue rationally and b'shem shamayim about substantive things. But, as of right now, with Jerry on his way out, and Eric on the cusp of being in, JFNA, as always, reverts to form. With the announcement of FEDlab (yep, that's how they want it but lab is encased in a faux light bulb) JFNA's leaders are presenting a "by invitation only" (no I did not receive one, maybe someone will take me as their plus one) off-year (or maybe it's "on year) substitute for the forlorn Genral Assemblies which, of late, have barely attracted flies. 

As faithful readers know, I believe there is a full-time professional at 25 Broadway charged with creating names for all things JFNA with the prefix Fed -- as in FedCentral, FedWorld, FedNothing and so many more...so, now, Fedlab. Old wine in a brand new bottle and a brand new wrapper -- and an "invitation" to make you feel special. The GA will be chaired by the ubiquitous (and, aren't all true leaders of JFNA, ubiquitous, really?) New York leader, Jodi Schwartz.

How will this thing be different from that thing? Let JFNA explain:
"Today we are calling -- across generations and discipline -- upon the thought leaders, change maker and most forward-thinking communal leaders in our community to engage in a three-day laboratory. To reexamine our approach to traditional challenges. And to shape a plan for the ones over the horizon.
FedLab will engage you with expert facilitators in deep conversation and interactive, problem-solving experiments to test assumptions, find real solutions and bring us to the next level.
FedLab is about taking a leap in order to land on new ground for our shared Jewish future."
(I have to admit that as I read this thing, I flashed back to Animal House when the brothers all mumbled "Bullshit, Bullshit, Bullshit" at their suspension "trial." But, I digress.)

The foci:

  • "Defeating the 'Anti' Agenda" 
  • "#EngageJewish"
  • "Action for Good in the 21st Century."
A select group of 200 has been invited: "Come ready to utilize all your powers of innovation , strategy and partnership in the lab."

I am not making this up.

Cannot wait to learn the results...

Rwexler

Friday, August 16, 2019

IS THIS REALLY A QUESTION?

I have always assumed that those professionals who have been the recipients of the Wexner Foundation Fellowships have been among the best and brightest. So it was painful, even horrifying, to read the title to a recent piece in The Jewish Week/Times of Israel incorporating a quote from one of these people: Do I Want to Walk Through the World With the Wexner Name Attached to Mine?https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/do-i-want-to-walk-through-the-world-with-the-wexner-name-attached-to-mine/

As the body of the article discloses:
"Wexner has not been accused of any wrongdoing but his close relationship with (Jeffrey) Epstein has raised suspicion." (Emphasis added.)
Should the Jewish Week and Times of Israel be peddling a story premised on unsupported guilt by association? A story that goes even further suggesting that this "guilt" associates the entire philanthropic community in Epstein's perversion. Thus, an anonymous "current (Wexner ) fellow" is quoted as follows:
"I think for some people, this issue has been about recognizing that there are systems at play that make scandals like this possible....There's something wrong in the world of philanthropy if this is possible in the first place.."
Just what "this" is the anonymous current Fellow talking about?

Then a former student at a Wexner-funded yeshiva, Mechon Hadar, was heard from:
"I would like to propose that our community take the lead in disassociating ourselves from Wexner and taking a stand against him being able to buy his way into a good name."
Les Wexner's good name was earned long, long ago. His good works date back decades. His contributions to Jewish life and leadership should not be tainted when he has not been charged with "wrongdoing" beyond his association with Epstein.  And, about that association, Wexner wrote only last month:
"...My heart goes out to each and every person who has been hurt. I severed all ties with Mr. Epstein nearly 12 years ago. I would not have continued to work with any individual capable of such egregious sickening behavior as has been reported about him. As you can imagine, this past week, I have searched my should...reflected...and regretted that my path ever crossed his. When Mr.. Epstein was my personal money manager, he was involved in many aspects of my financial life. But let me assure you that I was NEVER aware of the illegal activity charged in the indictment."
Leslie Wexner must certainly be numbered among the great Jewish philanthropists of our times. I can think of no other whose contributions to Jewish lay and professional leadership has been greater or more long term than his -- dating back to 1986, as I recall. I visited him in Columbus in my United Jewish Appeal Chair role and he freely gave his counsel and time -- so much so that I missed my flight to Chicago. 15 years later I and other leaders of the merger looked to Wexner for his insights. I remember so well the admiration that Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, one of our most important Jewish professional leaders, had for Wexner as Herb was the founding professional of the Wexner Heritage Foundation.

To now read of a sudden disdain and calumny based on innuendo that shadows Mr. Wexner since the reporting of Epstein's perversions, elevates guilt by association to an ugly art form. Let us not turn our backs to this great philanthropist.

Let the facts dictate our positions.

Rwexler



Monday, August 12, 2019

DELUSION

Dan Brown, the brilliant and insightful Founder and CEO of ejewishphilanthropy, and one of the great reporters and editors on the Jewish communal condition, in a Comment to a recent Post on the Blog, observed
"The non-American members of JAFI's board see this change (the vivisection of UIA and a reorganization that placed UIA and its functions under the thumb of the failed JFNA-Israel) , among others, as a positive. In fact, most are upbeat about the various changes currently taking place in JAFI and are convinced they will bring more American dollars to the table. Perhaps I'm the lone man out not drinking the Kool Aid."
No, Dan, there are many who have yet to swallow the Kool-Aid and the bullshit that comes with it.

Anyone....anyone at all...who believes that the American Jewish polity will provide greater financial support to JAFI's core budget because of the deconstruction of UIA, the transfer of greater functions to JFNA-Israel, the hire of Gail Reiss as CEO of JAID, the JAFI expensive FRD operation or the commendable openness of Bougie Herzog, the Chair of th4e Executive -- or for any other reason whatsoever -- is smoking something powerful and/or in total denial of reality. 

For a decade and longer, the federations' cash allocations to JAFI and JDC core budgets have been in free-fall. The allocation to the Jewish Agency alone has dropped beyond its own red line by $10 million to less than $85 million, falling year-by-year-by year. It has been losing market share to JDC and its own stated and restated purposes -- the primary ones seem today  to be "Jewish unity" and battling the World-wide plague of growing anti-semitism -- are confused with those of other, more focused organizations.

Is the UJA-Federation of New York not considering Draconian cuts to its core allocation? Will other Large City federations increase theirs to make up the resultant cuts? Rhetorical question.

Visits by Herzog or the misbegotten assignment by JAID of its fund-raising professionals (without prior communal engagement) to communities to engage in, what, allocations advocacy (who thought that one up?), are not going to make up the shortfall or staunch the tide. JFNA, in its attempted whitewash of its own failings as the putative allocations advocacy agent for JAFI.JDC/ORT, shifted the advocacy back to JAFI/JDC/ORT without guidance or management -- just walking away...."not our problem." 

In treating any addiction, the first steps for the addict is to acknowledge that the/she has the addiction. In the allocations process, there first must be an institutional admission that there is and has been a failure...and those responsible for that failure (and I include the federations, JFNA lay and professional leadership and a succession of leaders at JAFI and JDC who misplaced their confidence long ago that they could rely upon JFNA) have to immediately take responsibility -- all of them.

Who will be the first to step forward? And how will they effect positive change? I have my own ideas....

What are yours?

Rwexler


Monday, August 5, 2019

AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS...GONE

Back in the day, the United Jewish Appeal's Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission was the seminal Israel experience on the national Mission Agenda. Begun under Richie Pearlstone's last year as National Campaign Chair, I was privileged to inherit it when I succeeded Richie. We used the Mission as the vehicle for leaders other than the National Campaign Chair to lead and co-lead the Mission with Richie, I and our successors participating in a support role, cheerleading as it were. The initial staff leader was Vicki Agron and staff support was limited to a critical few. We always went to Israel even after a pre-Mission `(typically in the FSU); with a contingent that had a minimum of 75 federations and a maximum of 100 communities sending their Campaign Chairs and Directors. 

Each Mission exemplified the ruach and commitment of the participants.

That was then; and this is now: the National Campaign Chair led this Mission; 35 communities were represented; Israel? Not a chance, so 1990's -- this year the Mission travelled to Argentina and Uruguay (yes, Uruguay!!!). I assume Israel was mentioned. Staffing? Oh, there are at least 15 JFNA staffers -- and, mirabile dictu, one of those is Vickli Agron. For over a decade participation was limited to actual Campaign Chair, Directors and always a number of CEOs; today, the more the merrier.

Friends of the Blog sent on the Mission participant "materials." Setting aside the fact that the Mission is in South America, the Itinerary is certainly full -- along with end of ther day opportunities for fireside chats with the lay and professional leaders. There are appropriate FRD sessions led by pros who have rarely if ever solicited a major gift from a lay donor: it would have been far better had the leaders asked Gail Reiss, now the CEO of the Jewish Agency's development arm, to conduct the solicitation training.

Yes. this is now.

And, now, as you know, is a time when there is no JFNA SVP Financial Resource Development and hasn't been since Brian Abrahams left. Worse, if the roster of speakers and trainers is complete, the JFNA fund-raising professional staff may be near extinction -- check the number of JFNA pros in comparison with the number of FRD community consultants -- a large number. 

Eric Fingerhut is on his way. Assuming he has at least a five-year contract, his first act should be to hire the best and brightest to lead a revivified JFNA FRD effort at 25 Broadway because what has been allowed to happen is tragic.

Tragic.

Rwexler


Thursday, August 1, 2019

IS THIS THE END?

A FOB sent me this inquiry that appeared on FedCentral:

"Does anyone have experience running an investment/stock club?"

There's nothing more to say.

Rwexler 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

SCN

The Secure Community Network has been a real gem. Last week, JFNA Board Chair, Mark Wilf, extolled SCN's value and noted the recognition it has received from, among others, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI.

At its end, Mark made a plea for individual financial support for the SCN. For those, like the Board Chair, who have the capacity to help fund the SCN, b'hatzlacha

Some history is in order.

The SCN was the brainchild of a few Large Cities, including, I state with pride, Chicago. At the JFNA Board meeting at which it was approved along with a relatively small budget considering the enormity of its charge, questions arose as to how the SCN would be financially supported. Its was John Ruskay, then the UJA-Federation of New York President and CEO, who demanded, in the gentle way in which he stated all things, that given the high, if not highest, priority of institutional and communal security, JFNA commit to include the SCN as an annual Budget obligation. And he received that commitment from Silverman and the then JFNA Board Chair.

And, that commitment lasted, as best I recall, for all of two years. Couldn't afford it any more. (This brought to mind my own experience as the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago's Budget Chair way back when. We had a strategic priorities process in which the local agencies ranked their annual budget requests in priority order. And, one local Yeshiva listed as its lowest priority "fire extinguishers" knowing that Federation would see that need as among the highest priorities.) 

So, the Large Cities, over and above JFNA Dues, began to fund the SCN -- the SCN morphed into a communal financial obligation no longer the highest priority of the Continental system. Though they no longer know what it means, no longer a collective obligation. 

The SCN, like every other national organization, first told by the national organization that "you are our responsibility," found itself with the need to hire a professional fund raiser to raise funds to meet its responsibilities to the system that underfunded it. So early this year the SCN engaged a good one.

If one asked JFNA's leaders to rank the organization's priorities, community and institutional security would be at or near the top of the list -- apparently only so long as JFNA doesn't have to pay for it.

G-d bless Mark and those who have with him written checks to the SCN and may Mark assure that the SCN is the highest priority of the federation system and assure its core support.

Rwexler


Wednesday, July 24, 2019

THINGS.....

Things are happening:


  • An interesting article by Haaretz' Judy Maltz -- After Major Falling-out Jewish Agency to Resume Partnership with Evangelical-funded Charity -- revealed that JAFI's Chair of the Executive and Yael Eckstein, who succeeded her father upon his untimely demise as the leader of the organization Yechiel Eckstein, z'l, founded, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, had begun the "healing process." I not only served on the Jewish Agency Executive during the ugly and personal fall-out of the IFCJ withdrawal of its significant general financial support of the Agency but also served under Rabbi Eckstein's Chairmanship of the JAFI Aliya Committee. While it appears that no financial support will be forthcoming, as the saying goes: at least the parties are talking. This to the credit of both Bougie Herzog and Yael Eckstein. Where this goes from here, nobody knows...as usual.
  • The recent JCPA CEO's Webinar with Jerry Silverman demonstrated that JFNA is still in Global Planning Table mode (and you readers all know the waste in treasure and human resources of that fiasco) in this case, that all of JFNA will pursue -- three vague things (I don't know what else to call them): 
    • A Marquee Collective Impact Initiative without substance. As in the GPT there will be "coalitions of the willing" (of which during the GPT, there were none) -- the concept of collective responsibility...further reduced if it even exists any longer at 25 Broadway.  After all, who among us will ever forget the GPT Select Core Priorities which morphed into a set of Strategic Initiatives  -- actually who remembers them -- unfunded, unstructured failures. For the same organization to now call for Marquee Collective Impact Initiatives means that the organization that has worked for a decade at least to wipe out institutional memory has no memory of its own last decade;
    • Committing federations to "collect and share their benchmarking data" and Federation performance data -- I guess as they did in the days of UJA and CJF when the communities trusted their national organizations; and
    • Reinvesting in talent -- without a single program to do so.   
    • Israel? Fugggedaboutit -- nowhere to be found.                                       
       At the time of the first CEO "transition," incoming President Steve Hoffman was confronted with a planning document drafted. by the Lay Chairs of JFNA's (then UJC's) lay chairs. Without any announcement, Steve merely indicated he would move the organization forward without reference to that "plan." He did. Perhaps, this would be an excellent path for JFNA's new CEO to relect upon. 

And that's it for today from Lake Woebegone.

Rwexler

Friday, July 19, 2019

ALL THE NEWS...

At one time there was a thriving independent Jewish print media led by fearless men and women; like so many things in Jewish life, that was then and this is now.

The Jewish Week's Gary Rosenblatt, The Forward's J.J. Goldberg and Jane Eisner, The Jewish Journal's Rob Eshman, The Chicago Jewish News' Joe Aaron, TC Jewfolk's Lonny Goldsmith, Debra Nussbaum Cohen for so many and ejewishphilanthropy's Dan Brown and so many more. But the list is getting shorter and shorter. These are the women and men who write and edit with courage and independence; men and women with whom I have sometimes disagreed as I respect them for their attempts to shed light often in dark corners and too often with strong resistance from their subjects.

All of this and more was brought to mind by a recent Comment to an earlier Post from a FOB:
"This blog continues to be right on, as it has been for many years - both Richard's posts and many of the reader comments. The only thing wrong with it is that it has only limited exposure. If our Jewish community had more independent journalism, many of the blog's posts and comments would have been reproduced and more people would understand what is going on at JFNA with their financial support. 
Richard, you should follow up on that angle so that the message gets out. That is evidently the only chance we have to force action and change." 
There was a time when the Jewish media was interested, even focused on the communal system; today, like 100s of 1000s of donors, they have lost almost all interest. 

Part of the problem has been that major federations have sought to assure that their unadulterated message appears in their own publications -- some well-produced but, certainly, the pages where never is read a discouraging, yet alone critical word. These newspapers have sucked up advertising dollars. 

And, in so many ways, organizations like JFNA hide behind claimed "confidentiality" to obfuscate and camouflage bad news and, often, any news. (Readers will recall, among other times, the admonition I received for linking you to the Bridgespan "Strategic Plan" -- causing JFNA to take down the link and hide the Report.)

I think we all know the quote from Justice Brandeis: sunlight is the best of disinfectants. It is clear that in too many places, the mere thought of sunlight penetrating the darkness is anathema. The idea of a strong, inquiring, demanding independent Jewish press is to too many a really terrible idea.

This attitude, of course, raises a seminal question: what do they have to hide?

Just asking.

Rwexler


Monday, July 15, 2019

THE FAREWELL TOUR

Sports fans are very familiar with those "retirement tours" wherein an aging athlete who is leaving the game is rewarded for his/her years of stardom with a gift (a personalized rocking chair, sometimes a car, a motorcycle, etc.) and bade farewell. The federation system hasn't a substitute but the great ones -- Ruskay, Hoffman, D. Friedman, Nasatir -- get a dinner and, appropriately, a Fund in their names to distribute for noble and/or innovative programs.

Then there is/was our (well, your) Gerald Silverman -- oh, he got a fund for professional development at JFNA almost oxymoronic; and appearances at a number of federation Board meetings; and, most recently, a joint appearance with JCPA's CEO, David Bernstein, in a Webinar on, of all things, Jewish Federations Then and Now. All in 30 minutes (it actually lasted 35) -- one FOB suggested: "...more than enough time for him to communicate all that he learned in ten years." I know, many of you agree that maybe 10 minutes would have been sufficient.

To make the Webinar more meaningful, the invitation listed some (all?) of the questions for Jerry:
"How have Jewish Federations evolved over the last ten years? What direction are they going? Where does Jewish advocacy and community relations fit in?" (Yes, I know, "direction" should be plural and "does" should be "do" but this is Jerry after all.)
So, I tuned in.

As would have been expected, in the thirty-five minutes allocated to this thing, and, given that the interviewee was the Jerry., there was a wide-ranging use of jargon and cliche, and almost no facts. While David Bernstein introduced the session as an "amazing opportunity" to debrief with Jerry, it proved to be nothing more than another "opportunity" lost.

Examples? We have many. Consider:

  • JS spoke of "running the business" and "generating revenue" -- neither of which he did;
  • Talked of "our campaigns" raising $910-$920 million -- should have been, should always be "the federations' campaigns" of course;
  • When asked what the "mission of JFNA is today," Jerry responded that it is "timeless;"
  • Silverman cited the importance of the JFNA Strategic "Process" but failed to mention that (1) the document itself has been suppressed, unless you have a copy, you can't see it; (2) it was drafted by a Consultant; and (3) its "big ideas" have no meat on the bones;
  • Jerry embraced the idea of "Kennedyesque" goals to be led by JFNA -- he loved the idea so much, that he repeated "Kennedyesque" ad nauseam. on and on and on (it was at this point that I realized that David Bernstein deserved a special award for maintaining a straight face!!);
  • After his restatement for the umpteenth time the three "goals" flowing from the consultant's work, no one could be surprised that JFNA has not a single strategy for implementing any of these goals -- perhaps The Bridgespan Group could be retained to develop strategies. (Oh, they have been -- never mind.)
To his credit, Jerry cited pioneering programs in Chicago and Los Angeles -- as we all know, JFNA itself after the 10 years of Jerry has no programs of its own.

I got exactly what I expected.

You?

Rwexler


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

EGREGIOUS MUCH?

Yes. I'm the guy who railed long and hard against the egregious compensation paid to the JFNA CEO over his terms -- egregious in the absolute and, perhaps worse, in the relative sense when placed in the context of failure. And readers of this Blog know the main reason for my screed -- JFNA's lay leaders determined -- and quickly -- that Jerry could not manage the operation, took those management responsibilities from him, yet paid him as if he were still performing all of the roles for which he was hired, not half of them...or even fewer.

Then one of you sent me a massive non-profit Salaries Review -- and I found something worse -- if JFNA's CEO's  salary has been egregious; there is another that is EGREGIOUS.

Understand, please, I know how hard communal CEOs work. They are on the job 24/6; always on call. Over the decades I have watched so many of them holding their communities together at the most difficult of times. I have been privileges to work with so many that I hold in the highest regard and others whom I have visited in good times and bad. Most are, in reality, under-compensated. Then, there is this...

Yes, there was that now "retired" JDC CEO who was paid close to $1 million and the $800,000 (+) paid his colleague at JDC-Brookdale, lower case egregious, but then there it was, in 2017 (I believe, maybe 2018, it matters not) the CEO of the ADL was paid $994,800.

Now, it is possible that the Survey got it wrong but comparing the ADL number to others in the survey we know are correct, probably not. Trying to find a current ADL 990 proved impossible; it's most "current" and available IRS filing dates back to 2016 (the most recent JFNA 990, as an example, reports through June 30, 2017). 

I have been an advocate for compensation appropriate to accomplishment, to the complexity of the position and to the market. The ADL CEO's compensation is disproportionate to any and all of those criteria. 

$994,800. Oh, my.

Rwexler