I think back to the end of the Operation Exodus Campaign led by United Jewish Appeal in partnership with the community of mega-donors
and the federations to incredible success — a $1 billion campaign. But, at its end, beyond the sense of accomplishment the Jewish communities began sending UJA a message — our donors are tired, and our local agencies need our attention. “Don’t bother us.”
I was reminded of that moment and the message (which, by the way, was not based on fact everywhere — in my own federation and others, we went about our business converting the increased gifts into the annual campaign with great success in many instances — as I tried to identify what the hell happened and continues at JFNA.
If you are a regular reader of this Blog, you know my sense that the perfect storm of terrible circumstances arose in the election of Kathy Manning as Board Chair and her decision (and, face it chèvre, it was her determination, her decision) to: (a) embark on the Rube Goldbergian Global Planning Table and (b) hire Jerry Silverman. Both of these decisions resulted in the catastrophe JFNA and the federations face today.
First the disastrous GPT. Disaster was written over this “thing” from conception to execution (some would say it’s a perfect metaphor for JFNA itself). And the disaster it was was predicted by many federation leaders at so-called regional meetings. where there was almost unanimous objection: to the creation of a faux governance, to the override of collective response with a set of undefined “coalitions pf the willing” around project areas never approved by the federations, to the distraction of 100s of federation lay and professional leaders from their historic tasks, to a real abandonment of the system’s historic partners. And, through it all, Silverman sat in bewildered agreement with Manning and with everyone else.
There can be no doubt that the ultimate decision to hire Jerry for a position to this day he does not comprehend was Manning’s simple insight that he would not “get in the way” of her GPT — as he did not. When a brilliant young professional was hired to run the Global Planning Table and the GA, she resigned within weeks seeing that she would be “running nothing;” that Manning would be running everything. To this day, no JFNA Board member knows how many millions were wasted on the GPT. (In typical JFNA style, “it’s confidential.” What we do know is that Jerry embarked on a "War Against Memory" -- it is the only JFNA battle that he clearly won. And it was/is a battle that served JFNA so poorly.
As Manning’s terms as JFNA Board Chair were running out, she appointed herself — yes, you read that correctly — the Chair of the Global Planning Table. More millions were invested in staff and consultant time until Michael Siegal, Kathy’s successor as JFNA Board Chair, found the support necessary to put an end to this terrible chapter (while, at one and the same time, even though after 5 years there was not a single positive outcome under Silverman’s leadership, Jerry was given a 5 year contract extension).
Circle back with me to the beginning of this Post and the sense of exhaustion that accompanied the triumphal end of the Exodus Campaign for here is the parallel — at the ultimate end of the GPT (with its surviving remnant, a barely breathing I-Rep working to achieve a barely breathing Israeli Civil Society effort, for which adequate funding has never been realized) the federations were again exhausted. Federation lay leaders had no interest in and, in fact, had been weaned away from collective responsibility by JFNA itself. The one organization charged with advocacy for collective responsibility just plain walked away from it. Collective responsibility, one of the critical pillars of our Jewish polity, literally left in the dustbin of history.
Attempts by the United Israel Appeal to revive continental advocacy were first adopted and then stripped form that organizations raison d’être by JFNA leaders who themselves could not interest the federations in giving an audience to the needs. And, now, through the work of a Task Force on Global Responsibility, UIA itself is threatened with defenestration to preserve the illusion that JFNA-Israel is capable of…anything.
And, while I worry about UIA and the overseas partners, I see no visible efforts and no visible ability at JFNA to provide any guidance to the field, to an incoming professional class, 60% of whom are new CEOs. These professionals, dedicated to community as their predecessors may no longer view the role of CEO as a cause, or the federation profession as a Movement, but may only see it as a job — often a great job, well-paying, with great perquisites — just a job. JFNA should...must...engage JPro in an organized effort to educate and train new CEOs. LeadingEdge does a fine job with a purposefully limited cadre of organizational leaders but it is JPro leaders who would bring the experience and the passion of the Movement to the newly hired.
Friends, the system is in a state of shock…a literal state of collapse. When a new Federation CEO joins the system and realizes, as one will, that his/her community, with an annual campaign being rebuilt after years of stasis, is paying $2,600,000 (+) in JFNA Dues, while that community’s local agencies are competing with the central Federation annual campaign for funds, something has to give. The argument to that community and others — “if you reduce your JFNA Dues, the system will collapse like a House of Cards” — is no longer compelling when the community is getting close to nothing back for its Dues “investment.” (In addition, many of those CEOs who make that specious argument, have retired, are themselves retiring or will soon do so.)
I think all you know that were I advising Mark Wilf (and, no, Mark hasn’t responded to my “Letter” Post to date), I wouldn’t be waiting for "The Breakstone Group Consultant Study,” I would be convening the lay a professional leaders of each JFNA City-size group to develop programs and plans that would both interest and benefit…them. Of course, that would require a new CEO (or, that for which I have pled time and again, an Interim CEO) and a staff capable of looking toward the future with a sense of purpose and integrity.
If there is to be a future.