Saturday, February 6, 2016


                               "No reason to be"
                                               Stephen Sondheim

In its analysis of the "Trump phenomenon" last month, Time Magazine concluded, at least in part, that Trump was the logical end of the emergence of "disintermediation" in the political realm. This was the beginning of the end of the "middlemen" in political life as voters in the age of social media no longer need or trust them: the end of party bosses, mass marketing, even, possibly, political parties themselves. This grabbed my attention...and not in a good way.

The dictionary defines disintermediation as the: 
  1. "...reduction in the use of intermediaries between producers and consumers, for example by investing directly in the securities market rather than through a bank."

Were I a federation CEO/President or Campaign/FRD Director today, regardless of City-size, I would be deathly afraid of what disintermediation means or will mean or could mean for my community and for me. Perhaps the same question could have/should have been raised when CJF first began promoting designated giving in the early '90s; or when JAFI's IEF first "projectized" its budget in the mid-90s; or when the first federation demanded that its UJC Dues be recalculated subtracting designated gifts from its annual campaign statistics to achieve, in the case of the Boston CJP,  a reduction in its Dues support for JFNA; or when we all began "bowling alone" a decade and one-half ago; or, perhaps, you have a better date for the beginning of the disintermediation of the federation construct. I would suggest that it could have been at any of these moments which coincided with the breakdown of trust in the federation and the complicity of federations in that diminished trust. And, now the piper must be paid.

What does it mean to our communities, our organizations? It means that our donors more and more believe only in themselves; their message is that "we don't need you to make charitable investment decisions on our behalf." "We don't need you to identify needs that need to be met, we can find the outlet for our charitable passion through Google." The federation is more and more viewed as nothing more than the first "middleman" in a daisy chain of "middlemen" adding incremental costs in this process of disintermediation...costs that mount up and mount up. And, in desperate attempts in some communities to stay relevant and important, federations have often bought into the argument and, in so doing, have reinforced the breakdown in trust and the perception of no longer being necessary.

Recently, ejewishphilanthropy published a thought piece authored by two former leaders of, first, CJF's pioneering efforts in endowment and planned giving, Don Kent, and Joe Imberman, who, until last year had led JFNA's PG and E programs with distinction before and through the merger until last year. The article, "Think Forward -- the truth about Federations, donor advised funds, and supporting foundations (or 'what is participatory philanthropy?')" Here were two professionals charged with enhancing the role of federations for our donors who, instead, literally gloat about their role in promoting donor disintermediation as, what they (and, now, we) term "donor centered philanthropy." It's participatory philanthropy, alright -- donors and beneficiaries "participate" and federations are but the conduit. And, the authors, once system-dedicated, decry a lack of "sufficient funding" of the endowment/planned giving effort. Nowhere do these two great professional leaders offer their comments on the reality that some Jewish communal endowment efforts (e.g., San Francisco) see donor funding flowing in excess of 75% to secular charities annually. In their roles as professional leaders of our Federation system, neither Kent nor Imberman felt the subject was worthy of  public discussion, dismissing the subject with continuing emphasis on the great growth of donor-advised funds, supporting foundations and more. 

Worse, as Federations began to suffer reductions in, often the imminent collapse of, the unrestricted annual campaign, in too many places, they turned in apparent desperation to "gimmick campaigns" abandoning the centrality of federation in community planning and fund raising to total "donor choice," "total choice" -- "designation" by whatever name was chosen. Some even dropped Federation from their name (see, e.g., JewishColorado). The message was, at its core, " us, send us your money and we'll just send it on." It made no difference to these communities, growing in number, that they had abandoned in largest measure the concept of collective responsibility that distinguished federation from all other Jewish charities. Worse, JFNA, designed to be the federations' collective voice, was more and more led by those who failed to understand the core principles and historic values upon which community was built, even publicizing and promoting the least of communities as offering some form of what JFNA calls FEDovation which are, too often, nothing more than "anti-FEDovation." The worst practices have become ingrained as "best practices."

What can be done? First, a reenergized/reformed JFNA must rededicate itself to the founding principles of "federation qua federation." This will require a professional staff inculcated with the spirit, passion and meaning of federation and the ability to communicate those values in word and deed. (How many in today's JFNA Senior management have a significant federation experience in their backgrounds?) 

Second, federation leaders around the Continent need to be inspired to a rededication to those values that built the system. 

Third, planned giving and endowment professional leaders must assume responsibility for leading their donors toward greater support of the communal enterprise as one of their operating principles. It is not enough to increase the number of Supporting Foundations and DAFs, which the system has done with incredible success, without a concurrent and complimentary commitment to the work of the Jewish community in all of its aspects. 

My sense is that it is probably too late for the system to be saved as such. Each federation will continue to bowl alone, collective responsibility will become more and more limited to emergencies and catastrophes except in those communities steeped in the historic values of federation. Some will argue that this "disintermediation" is fundamentally good for federations; giving donors greater control will help build trust in those places where trust has broken down. I would ask: show me one community where that has actually happened. Just one.

I despair.


* This Post originally appeared in ejewishphilanthropy, January 27, 2016:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016


There's a new book, just released, titled The Confidence Game, the tagline for which is Why We Fall For It...Every Time. I would suggest this tag line as a framing question.

OK, friends, here's what we've learned:
  1. Smilin' Jerry receives (it would not be appropriate to use the term "earns") a salary + benefits estimated at in excess of $700,000...annually. 
  2. He quite clearly does not manage: Israel/Overseas, JFNA-Washington (and inquiring as to when he will get his next invitation to The White House does not qualify), the Network (may not know what "the Network" is), or FRD/Philanthropic Resources (what are those? he might ask). In fact, wasn't Mark Gurvis hired to "manage" those operations? If so, great job!
  3. He does spend time interfering with Marketing and Communications 
  4. He keeps very careful records of his "earned airline Mileage" on an annual basis
  5. He keeps his lay leaders and those he perceives as his Large City Executives close
  6. He may update his rumored "Enemies List" on a daily basis
  7. His favorite phrase is "I'll get back to you on that" and then...doesn't
  8. GA after GA have been underpopulated by lay registrants and new ideas
  9. Though he shouldn't, he gives interviews 
  10. He visits communities with regularity. For example, he just hit Milwaukee which cut its overseas allocations in a Draconian manner -- he did not mention this on his visit; maybe he was unaware.
  11. Does he sit in a darkened room and read all of his staff's outgoing e-mails?
And, here's what I know: when JFNA offered the CEO position to a great communal professional who was known to have minimal management skills, nonetheless he was proffered the position (which he turned down (more than once), because he was a spectacular preeminent fund raiser. What was the rationale for Smilin' Jerry's retention -- neither a manager nor a fund raiser? Good personality? Great dancer? Etiquette? Heckuva dresser? None of the above?

Why would anyone, especially communal/systemic leaders have "confidence" in this CEO? Do they see something that is not evident to anyone who studies the record? 

I, we, have a sense of what Smilin' Jerry does. What we also have a sense of is the sum total of five+ years of his "efforts" -- not one substantive accomplishment beyond those of the continued programs of UJA and CJF, which JFNA implemented from Day 1; not one beyond those benefits of the spectacular work of William Daroff and the legislative/lobbying staff. 

I can tell you that when Rabbi Brian Lurie was UJA's CEO new and successful programs grew from his fertile and creative mind like clusters of grapes on old vines. At the JFNA of today federations have been left to fend for themselves at a cost of $30 million per year.

You tell me...what does he do?


Saturday, January 30, 2016


1. First, congratulations are in order. JFNA's Board of Trustees, at their Winter Meetings, actually discussed what federation commitments to the collective really mean. It was about time. 

2. JFNA is hosting its annual Professionals Institute at the end of March. It looks like an excellent program that could have some excellent take home value. Several of you sent me the Save the Date or Invite or Announcement or whatever it was because it came to them from Vicki Agron, who has joined the JFNA roster of consultants with her tremendous enthusiasm. (Don't try to respond to Agron's e-mail address on the Invite -- it doesn't exist.) 

If you read these pages you are no doubt aware that JFNA has no FRD function -- there are no senior FRD professionals at 25 Broadway (although offers are out and "help is on the way"). But one of the professional Co-Chairs of the Institute (at least the FRD part) is a well thought of fund raising pro from D.C. (how's the Annual Campaign going there, BTW?) Anyway, here's the tentative "FRD Track" at the thing:
"FRD track highlights:
  • Psych 101: Drivers of philanthropy from the donor perspective
  • Up Your Game: How to leverage your leadership and build a winning team
  • Fire Away: Rapid-fire best practice sharing and table conversations
  • Get it Together: Maximize fundraising through collaborative strategies"
So, I'm guessing that there will be at least one "Donor" to provide that "perspective" (Or, perhaps, either a hologram or the indefatigable Harold Gernsbacher.) And, clearly, this was not a "track" dictated by Smilin' Jerry inasmuch as it promises "best practices" as opposed to the JFNA rebrand of FEDovation.

Sadly, unless some superb senior professional will have agreed to join JFNA and restart FRD there from the ground up by the Ides of March, s/he will have had no hand in prepping this "track;" and who knows who the presenters will be (other than my friend Vicki Agron) -- but how can they have a "track" without a a presentation on "The Importance of Story-Telling to Successful FRD" by one of those omni-present consultants?

I don't know what the Program for the rest of the Institute will be but I'm hoping that there will be at least one presentation by the ubiquitous Debra K. Smith on "How to Earn $300,000+ And No One Knows What You Do." If invited, I'd show up for that one...or the one Smilin' Jerry could lead on a similar topic "How to Earn $700,000+ And No One Can Name a Single Accomplishment."

Anyway....should be great. Sign up now.

3. And, then, there is the question of whether the JFNA Board Chair, Richard Sandler, has yet challenged Smilin' Jerry, who for 5+ years has been able to hide behind the JFNA Iron Curtain, pulling it down when convenient to shield himself and his administration from all debate, all questions while smiling' away, to a real transparency -- the same thing he had demanded and received as Board Chair in Los Angeles. Here's what one Commentator to the Blog asked with regard to the apparent debacle that has been exposed as to the Seattle Federation's Dues "deal:"
"Regarding Seattle and their dues, it would be interesting to find out if they alerted JFNA of what they were going to do and why, and what JFNA's response was. Perhaps they invited Jerry Silverman to address their Board on what they receive in return for their level of dues, or even perhaps go over the JFNA budget line by line. I would think that each Federation has the right to ask for those two responses. 
It doesn't happen at the JFNA Board meetings; nobody goes up to the microphone to question anything.But at the local Federation level, the rubber meets the road, and questions will be asked, with answers demanded.....Did that happen in Seattle?
And we all know that this is the tip of the iceberg, and once the word gets out about Seattle cutting their dues, others will follow."
Who at JFNA exactly made the decisions with regard to Seattle's purported Dues "deal?" Who approved it? What other federations have made "deals" that reduce their Dues? What is the Board Chair going to do to assure transparency -- isn't that transparency one of the critical values of Jewish organizations.

4. As an Addendum...when I read the JTA Update on Sunday a.m. January 31, announcing that the Government of Israel and Women of the Wall had reached an "historic agreement" assuring unimpeded access to at least part of the Kotel, I wondered how long it would take Smilin' Jerry to grab some credit for doing...exactly what? Cheering Women of the Wall and the Jewish Agency on from a distance apparently is worthy of self-congratulations.  And, you must view the JFNA Video -- One Wall for One People* -- to the end. There you will see Silverman (who also served as narrator) arm in arm with Natan Sharansky and the Women of the Wall. No mention that that shot was taken in November 2013, the last time JFNA served as an advocate on the issue, having decided its best role, as always,m would henceforth be as a "monitor of the situation."  

Again..."what the Hell?"


* Of course, the agreement grants unlimited access to a very limited area.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Not everyone would agree but, as recently written on the pages of a major magazine:
"New Year's can be a time for new beginnings, a fresh page for reworking some of the mess left over from earlier travels..."
We shall see.

At this point there can be no doubt that Smilin' Jerry S. is the avatar of institutional mediocrity. Jerry is the proverbial canary in the coal mine -- if we can't fix this, then we can't fix anything. We could count the ways once again, but, rather than doing so in this Post perhaps it's time to look in one place, one Post, this Post, as to those who bear the most significant responsibility for the mess JFNA is in. Let's begin...

1. The Board Chairs. We could start almost anywhere, but, bottom line, it was one Board Chair, Kathy Manning, who demanded that the CEO Search Committee she chaired with her typical decisiveness push Jerry Silverman forward and crown him as chief professional officer his lack of federation experience, training or education notwithstanding. Assured that Silverman would follow her every demand without question, and, in particular, her dictate of the convolution that would become the Global Planning Table. JFNA would never recover. 

Manning's successor, Michael Siegal, came into office assuring those who asked that he understood that the CEO had to go; he even demanded that Silverman create the strong "bench" that he had theretofore resisted: hiring a COO and a well-regarded Marketing and Communications senior pro. And, then...nothing. As Frank Underwood, the brilliant, nasty anti-hero of House of Cards, concluded: "What is the face of a coward? The back of his head as he flees from battle." 

Now Richard Sandler has to confront the mess that JFNA has become -- and the question is open -- does he perceive that JFNA is comatose and...will he? And, if he will...when? Or is he willing, as his predecessor proved to be, to waste his three years as Chair?

2. The JFNA Board. Insurrection from the Board level is most unlikely. While the power of the federations within JFNA is in the hands of the Board, there is nothing in JFNA's history (or for that matter, in the history of any of our organizations) to suggest that there will be a spontaneous coming together to try to propel JFNA out of its lethargy and mediocrity. These are the brightest of leaders, some of whom have transparent ambitions to succeed Sandler -- thus, they believe that it is in their interests to make no waves, to sit back and await direction. The Board has become the least likely place to find or develop the requisite momentum for change...but experience also suggests that they will follow their leader. The Board, as a group, just wants to be "on the team;" point them in the right direction. I look at the JFNA Board list and see the names of our best and brightest, sitting at meetings, raising no questions, making no waves and I am reminded of the old joke:
"Two kids are sitting in a high school auditorium, listening to the principal give the welcoming speech for the year. The principal says, "The two greatest dangers that students face are ignorance and apathy."
One of the students turns to his friend and asks, "Dude, what's 'ignorance and apathy?'"
The other student, bored and restless and wanting for the speech to end says, "I don't know and I don't care."
Unlike these hypothecated students, the JFNA Board doesn't want to know and, if they did, they might...just Then again, probably not.

3. The Large City Executives. Sure, this is the most likely place from which the movement for change might emerge. After all, it was the LCE who, having forced Steve Solender upon the strongest of Board and Executive Chairs as JFNA's first CEO, quickly saw Solender, a beloved member of their "Brotherhood" but inept in the position and eased him out to make room for Steve Hoffman to succeed him to be followed by the ultimately overwhelmed Howard Rieger; who ultimately acquiesced in the engagement of Smilin' Jerry as they continue to act as the puppeteers. They are a smart group -- they are the "Masters of the Universe" (well, this "universe" after all) -- they can certainly see what has happened to and at JFNA. One of them lamented to me: "I am watching that which I dedicated my life to building, being destroyed." But they have aged; they have become fat and happy and safe in their fiefdoms, their collective focus turned inward. And, inward it shall remain so long as the Smilin' One turns to them for every JFNA decision. 

But, there is hope -- Eric Goldstein, brilliant lawyer and major philanthropist, to whom the New York UJA-Federation turned to succeed John Ruskay as its CEO, represents the most important Federation among the 155. There can be no doubt the Eric has been quietly observing JFNA, asking the right questions about the ROI of New York's multi-million dollar annual Dues support of JFNA. Twice in the short painful history of JFNA, professional issues at the top were self-correcting (Solender, Rieger); but not any more. Certainly Eic Goldstein and Richard Sandler, long-time colleagues in the legal world though on opposite coasts, might at some point coalesce in their significant respective leadership roles and demand and effect change at the top of JFNA. Their leadership in such an effort would be irresistible.

There are those among JFNA leaders who see nothing wrong in how the organization is being run or in its lack of direction or in how the bloated Budget is spent. Yet, the reality is something quite different. As one Anonymous Commentator wrote us:
"JFNA isn't providing financial support for anybody anymore - no FRD, no campaign, no Israel & Overseas advocacy (an "agenda" maybe but not what it should be), no collective responsibility, no leadership, no accountability..."
When the leadership, if the leadership, the Board and the LCE sit down and examine the JFNA of today, the Commentator's conclusions will prove irresistible. Maybe...maybe...change will take place. A brilliant professional, one with whom I have had differences over time but for whom I have always had the greatest respect, wrote me privately, He said, in part:
"Your blog today was so sad and so true. Alas, those of us who care about the collective, who still believe there is a Jewish people - not just internal tribes- are watching a lifetime of work fade away. It is not just JFNA’s lack of performance these past 15 years - under several CEO’s- it is also that the donor base – even as it changes – has not been educated by federations about our core values. There are a few exceptions but the rule of collective action lies torn and broken."
This professional leader is so terribly right about a system that has gone so terribly wrong.

Friends, responsibility for where and what JFNA is today falls everywhere. It starts with me, with those of us who actually believed that with federation ownership of the "system" would come a sense of and an exercise of the responsibilities that come with ownership. We were proved to be wrong...very wrong. Ownership proved to be its own reward, an end in itself...and ownership with an abdication of responsibility at every 1 and 2 and 3 above...has brought us to the empty vessel that JFNA has become. 


Monday, January 25, 2016


Some of you who have written Anonymously have demonstrated an alarming ignorance of the work of the Jewish Agency/JDC/World ORT. So I asked the beneficiaries if they would be interested in spelling out some of their programs executed on our behalf with our federations' unrestricted allopcations. 

Here is the World ORT response:
"First, ORT is providing education and skills to vulnerable populations around the world just as it has since 1880. Today the largest program is in Israel where ORT is transforming the education system in full partnership with the Ministry of Education working primarily in the geographic and socio-economic periphery of the country since 2007. In 2008 ORT introduced the first interactive whiteboards in Israel schools leading to a $28 million project funded 50-50 between ORT and the Ministry of Education. In the project ORT installed 1,000 such classes and provided 120 hours of training to all the teachers in the schools in how to use the whiteboards properly in education. The project was evaluated by the prestigious Henrietta Szold Institute which documented dramatic changes in attitudes and achievements of the students and in the methods of teaching. Core funds were used to guarantee the match of the government and  to sustain an infrastructure of ORT in order to implement this project over a five year period.  

In 2010 ORT opened the Alex & Betty Schoenbaum Education, Science and Cultural Campus in Kiryat Yam using a donation of $5 million to leverage an $18 million dollar transformational project. The results in Kiryat Yam took the rate of students passing the bagrut from below 50% in 2008 to over 90% in 2013. Today instead of more than 200 students leaving Kiryat Yam to study in other schools, over 300 students now come to Kiryat Yam schools because of the quality of the education. Core funds were used to sustain an infrastructure over the 2 years of the project.
In 2011 ORT was asked to assume responsibility for what s possibly the only program of its type in the world – educating kids in the hospital more than 3 days, something that is mandated by the Israeli government. Today ORT runs the entire hospital network of 35 children’s hospital schools for kids in the hospital more than 3 days, and provides in home education for kids unable to attend school. Last year this education was provided to 120,000 children in hospitals and over 6,000 children confined to homes. Core funds are used to sustain an infrastructure since its inception to manage the project, train the teachers and to provide the necessary resources beyond the salaries paid by the government.

In 2012  ORT introduced its You-Niversity project in 5 cities on the periphery of Israel in a 50-50 partnership with the Ministry of Education. This after-school project introduces the students to STEM education in an informal way. The courses are typically taught by university professors which for most of the 6-8th graders may be the first time they ever came in contact with a professor or had any idea that they too might be able to go to a university if they studied hard. Core funds are used to sustain an infrastructure since its inception to manage the project. The project was so successful that the government asked ORT to double the capacity in the five cities and then in 2014 ORT was asked by the Jerusalem Municipality to introduce one in East Jerusalem to serve the Arab students and one in Jerusalem to serve the Haredi students. Again both have been enormously successful, and once again core funds are used to match the government funds (short of the funds ORT is able to raise from donors) and maintain an infrastructure to be able to manage the project.

In 2015 ORT was asked by the Ministry of Education to assume responsibility for 3 youth villages and schools in those villages that today serve over 1,000 students from broken homes, students with only one parent or in many cases no parents. Likely in the future more schools will be added to this new “network”. ORT is about to launch a $5 million fundraising campaign to cover the needs in the first phase. Core funds will be used to provide some of the needs for which funds are not raised and to maintain an infrastructure to manage the network.

And there is more in Israel, but that isn’t the only place that ORT works. In the FSU ORT manages 17 Jewish day schools with over 7,000 students. These schools are considered among the best schools in  the FSU. The schools operate under a 3 way partnership. The local government pays for the secular subjects. The Israeli Ministry of Education pays for the Jewish studies. ORT funds are used to make the schools the best possible schools which is what attracts the parents to the school in the first place. In the entire FSU the ORT schools are the only Jewish schools open all Jews according to the Israeli Law of Return. For most of these 7,000 students their Jewish education and introduction to Israel starts at the school, not at home from their parents or grandparents. Without this network in a couple of generations there would be no Jewish community left in the FSU. As less and less donations are made for these schools ORT uses core funds to fill in the gaps.

While these are the larger uses of core funds it should be noted that as crises occur such as what’s happening in the Ukraine ORT needs to have some flexibility in unrestricted funds to rapidly respond with increased security or to meet other needs.

Finally, it is instructive to know exactly how much we are speaking about in core funds when we look at the budget of ORT. Last year the entire budget of World ORT was about $50 million. Roughly $43 million was donor designated for projects or represents government funds that were accessed as part of the partnerships for different projects. Of the remaining $7 million the federation system provided $2.6 million in core funds or slightly over 1/3rd. That $2.6 million is not a misprint. It should further be noted that World ORT’s O/H is dangerously low at about 6% with almost all of the O/H coming from core (unrestricted)  funds."
Having read the critical Comments, too often incoherent,  I fear that the facts will be ignored or derided by those who "know better" when, in reality, they know nothing at all. Let's hope that I am wrong.

Our thanks to World ORT for its dedication to its People-building work.


Sunday, January 24, 2016


"I'm from JFNA and I'm here to help you."

No doubt it was nothing more than coincidence that immediately upon the publication of our Post Camouflage for Failure that one who shall remain nameless at 25 Broadway snuck an outline to me of how JFNA Global Services: Israel and Overseas would almost immediately mount a program pursuant to which "trained" lay leaders (more on that below) would be approaching communities in a "better late than never" continental effort to educate our communities about the underfunded work of JAFI/JDC/World ORT and seek larger allocations to their core budgets.

We had written, in part:
"... my sadness extends far, far beyond this community or others engaged in the same withdrawal from the collective. It is a sadness and disappointment that the moral compass that once were UJA and CJF is nowhere to be found at JFNA. Nowhere to be found. With all the talk of 'envoys' and 'ambassadors' marching out to assert the need for greater financial support for the core of our system's historic partners, at the end of Calendar Year 2015, core allocations from the federation system reached their lowest levels...ever. Under the professional administration of the grossly overpaid CEO, we have experienced 6 straight years of record low core allocations, one after the other, after the other."
Trust me, and long-term readers of this thing know, I appreciate the fact that even now, six years after we first pleaded for continental education and advocacy from JFNA, JFNA is doing something -- it's just a shame that, as we should have expected, JFNA would (a) try to reinvent the advocacy wheel even though the "playbook" that I helped to write is just sitting there gathering dust and (b) this "envoy" effort has not been fully thought through.

Perhaps, JFNA is on the cusp of engaging a new Senior Vice President, Philanthropic Resources, and Becky Caspi, Empire Builder of Empty Promises, feared that whomever grabs the FRD golden ring might be one who understands that advocacy is a component of the FRD effort so she better grab advocacy and do That's how silos get built -- in particular when the CEO doesn't understand what's going on. And, of course, with the Global Planning Table scrapped, Global Operations: Israel and Overseas divided up everything that wasn't tied down and locked in place with UIA, leaving the latter with scraps and FRD with nothing. (I'm guessing that the National Campaign Chair knows nothing about this power grab.) It made no difference to the CEO that Israel and Overseas knew/knows zip about how to lead an advocacy effort from 7,000 miles away.

So, I/O is reaching out to lay leaders to serve as JFNA's "ambassadors" in the advocacy effort -- looking for volunteers. Time can't be wasted so, instead of the face-to-face hands'-on training sessions that UJA convened for this purpose, JFNA will conduct sometime next month to train the envoys for communal visits. Oh, though it appears to this trained eye to be absolutely incredible, the overseas beneficiaries/partners -- the Joint, Jewish Agency and World ORT, with their great institutional complexities, have been invited to participate as well. And that's a good thing. Yes, JAFI/JDC have each been give one-quarter hour...15 minutes..and World ORT...five. Unreal...unless one understands that this effort is really just about JFNA and its leadership, rather than about JAFI/JDC/World ORT. And that's the real shame...shameful actually.

When UJA (and, in its early years, JFNA) led the advocacy effort, most often our lay advocates visited our federations with representatives of the partners/beneficiaries hand-in-hand. We were trusted sufficiently by the partners/beneficiaries to be their advocates when their representatives were not available to join us. Now JFNA gives the partners 15 (or 5) minutes to "fully inform" the JFNA envoys. Come on! Really? When we formed an advocacy group at JAFI-North America, with lay leaders steeped in the work of the Jewish Agency, we still spent a full day in training -- JFNA is giving JAFI 15 minutes? Come on! Really? (I do assume that even JFNA will provide its messengers with detailed info/data on the partners and on the communities they will visit -- if JFNA actually has that information.)

First, who is doing the training? Caspi? One of the 25 staff people from her Office? David Brown, Chair of I/O? A few more consultants? Then, there's the issue of where the JFNA "envoys" are coming from. A true story: one of my closest friends in Jewish life, a  leader of his federation and our Partner organizations, called me with great excitement: "Richard," he said, "I have great news!! UIA is forming an allocations advocacy unit and I have been asked to chair it. Isn't that great." I responded, "UIA couldn't have picked a better person. But, your federation has been cutting its overseas allocations to JAFI/JDC by 10% per year -- down to 21%. How could you come in to my community and advocate for a larger allocation when the first question will be 'what does your federation allocate?'" The point? What are the criteria for the JFNA ambassadors/envoys? Any?

So, again, my own recommendation to JFNA: each envoy/ambassador shall first visit his/her own federation and gain an increased allocation there; then hit the road with that success propelling him/her forward. Let's see how that works. And send them side-by-side with the experts from JAFI/JDC/ORT not alone. If this allocations advocacy is not just a throwaway but is a real exercise of JFNA's moral responsibility, then JFNA must make it so -- recognize that allocations advocacy belongs within the ambit of FRD with I/O in support of the effort, not leading it; the envoys must be fully trained and from communities that demonstrably support the overseas partners; and recognize that this must be an on-going effort, not a one-shot visit, over and out.

Let's see how JFNA does.


Thursday, January 21, 2016


Still my favorite video of JFNA at work:

Some stuff:

1. Here's what one Commentator recommended in response to my Post -- Camouflage for Failure:

You should learn more about how Seattle has decided not to pay their full dues to JFNA -- instead they are basically going to pay JFNA the value of what they believe they get in return (which is much less). Imagine if every Federation did that? 
If this is JFNA's response to a hardship request -- denied BTW by the Financial Relations Committee almost a decade ago -- that might be fine but why hide that decision behind the JFNA Iron Curtain? 

Another Commentator explained the reality:

"Love JFNA or hate JFNA. It does not matter. We have a collective and members cannot decide to pay what they want. If they are unhappy with the budget/collective fair share dues, or whatever you call it, then they should work to lower to budget. Fight loudly to lower the budget or raise the budget. Advocate aggressively to change the priorities, service quality, and net value of the organization.

If a community is undergoing definable, financial hardship, I am all for JFNA working something out. But if it is ideological (don't like the CEO, don't like other staff, think the budget is too high, think the program priorities are misaligned, etc.), then this is not a private matter but a public matter for the collective. JFNA is doing a disservice by not sharing this information with all the Federations. I don't need to know about financial hardships. but if what Anon 10:25 AM is correct, then that's not right.

And JFNA is just plain wrong to hide the information, and communities playing such games with their dues are just plan cowards if they keep it quiet.

I am not arguing if JFNA is providing a decent value received or not. Or whether the budget is too large or too small. Or whether the volunteer or professional leadership should stay or go." 
Friends, if "private, secret deals," like Seattle's purported "deal," are being made; it's over; they will cascade like a flood. But, other than on these pages (and, in particular, in your Comments) where is the outrage? Where is the demand for Dues transparency? If Seattle (or any other federation) is not paying full Dues: (1) why are they still voting members of JFNA; and (2) is your federation or mine making up the difference?

 2. In the year-end issue of New York Magazine the editors showed a photo of an art installation next to the ancient and decrepit Williamsburg Bridge -- what looked like two letters in brilliant yellow spelling out OY. I thought that perhaps it would be possible to move the sculpture to the door way at 25 Broadway -- keeping it the wholly appropriate yellow -- OY!

3. A friend shared the following video that he/she discovered. It appears to capture the totality of Smilin' Jerry's contract negotiations: Watch it and weep.

4. Many of you will remember Eric Levine, a wonderful professional, first at UJA and later at JFNA where, as I recall, he was promoted to the leadership of FRD (kind of a "last man standing" after multi-purges of great pros before him) before idiots decided to collapse the Continental FRD effort. Eric left JFNA some years ago and has moved on to important roles elsewhere. When he was at UJA one of his responsibilities was to accumulate and publish comparative annual campaign data -- these data compilations distributed every other week helped to focus the UJA leadership on federations where campaign assistance would be helpful and provide communities with comparative measures of federation achievement (or failure as the case might be). Then, at JFNA during those years when the organization provided any service to the communities whatsoever, the organization offered "benchmarking" giving communal leadership the opportunity to examine their comparative success and to undertake responsible goal-setting. Of course, the "benchmarking" was data dependent -- with no staff, no benchmarking. Another communal void. 

If, as I think all of us practice in our businesses whatever they may be, that metrics are critical -- why do we continue to permit the circus that is 25 Broadway to avoid not just metrics to help federations in their work, but metrics to measure JFNA's own work? 

Just asking'?

5. And the reference immediately above to JFNA's address -- 25 Broadway -- reminded me that in the spectacular movie -- The Big Short -- a critical scene takes place at that very address. For that was the address of the credit rating agency confronted with its continuing support of the highest bond ratings for what were already "junk." While that organization has since moved to 55 Water Street, one wonders whether, given JFNA's sorry performance as well, 25 Broadway is cursed...

...or, as indicated above, needs to have the OY! construction relocated to its front door.


Monday, January 18, 2016


We have had some excellent discussions among the Commentators to these Posts. And, then, there are those that just make you scratch your head in wonder. Like this one:
"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "CAMOUFLAGE FOR FAILURE":

What is this "collective" to which you refer and genuflect reflexively?

Is it a 50-year-old formula to split dollars with the recipient agencies spending it as they please (in service of Jews)? Is it a shared mission, vision, programatic execution and evaluation?

Seems to me Seattle is going the way of SF, Boston, Philly and others and choosing on its own how to spend its dollars. These funds will still be spent in service of Jews. Isn't that supporting the collective?

The collective you worship is winding down. New collectives are forming. They're driven by different perspectives and shaped by different needs -- and largely guided by the same values.

Will Seattle's approach work? Who knows? But the establishment has been sliding for a quarter of a century. Let's try something new in service of Jews."
Forget the internal inconsistencies (asking what is this "Collective" thing? And, then proving not to understand what it is while presuming to tell us?), I certainly don't doubt the writer's sincerity or the need to find new ways to express the collective actions that distinguish the Jewish federations from all other charities. 

As another Commentator responded:
"The "collective" is not any formula - old or new. It is deciding together and not having everyone decide on their own. It is collectively setting a shared agenda, strategy and workplan - locally, nationally and internationslly.
The "collective" is the glue that will hold us together and keep us together. Without it we are lost as a unified community and as one people. Without it we are just a bunch of Jews - not a Jewish Community.
If we do not operate "collectively" our days are numbered.
Friends, if we, as a Jewish polity, do not understand the primacy of the collective concept to the Federations, I agree that "our days are numbered." But, as I have written -- far too often -- JFNA's leaders don't get it, don't understand it, and, worst of all, fail to transmit its meaning. 

Community after community makes Shabbos for itself with no consequences for the community, just for our partners, our beneficiaries. As a collective we become more and more and more diminished with no one from our Continental organization saying a word. Thus, we have become our own worst enemy -- you know the maxim: "We have met the enemy and it is us."


Thursday, January 14, 2016


This letter was transmitted to the beneficiaries of one Federation:
"Dear Colleagues,

As we shared with you during the summer, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle has adapted its business model in response to the changing needs of our community, both locally and around the world. Consequently, we are no longer making grants through an annual allocations process.

Our focus now is on Core Programs that we are executing in pursuit of our mission to create Jewish Connections for Life. The goals and direction of our Core Programs are informed by the 2014 Greater Seattle Jewish Community Study. One of the Core Programs will be Israel and World Jewry, whose goal is to build and strengthen connections between the Jewish community of Washington State’s Puget Sound region and Jewish communities in Israel and around the world, as well as to help Jewish communities in need.

We have established a committee to review the impact of our investment in programs in Israel and overseas, and we anticipate having additional information to share in April 2016. The committee may contact you if they have questions about your organization’s programs during the planning process.

Please keep up the great work that your organization is accomplishing, and we will be in touch when we have more information to share about our Israel and World Jewry investments."
Nice letter. Really nice letter. Read carefully it is the notice that this community is withdrawing its support of the collective. I know this federation well -- I once knew it as an outlier among federations in its geographic region -- its leaders, lay and professional, were totally committed to the sharing of financial resources on a collective basis. Then, gradually, as its annual campaigns diminished, it more and more turned inward. And, now this -- a really nice letter fooling no one. Bottom line, it's a sad and saddening letter and Seattle leadership is neither the first nor the last to send one like it.

But my sadness extends far, far beyond this community or others engaged in the same withdrawal from the collective. It is a sadness and disappointment that the moral compass that once were UJA and CJF is nowhere to be found at JFNA. Nowhere to be found. With all the talk of "envoys" and "ambassadors" marching out to assert the need for greater financial support for the core of our system's historic partners, at the end of Calendar Year 2015, core allocations from the federation system reached their lowest levels...ever. Under the professional administration of the grossly overpaid CEO, we have experienced 6 straight years of record low core allocations, one after the other, after the other. 

Some would argue that "the law frowns upon exercises in futility" and that advocacy for increased core is just that -- an act of futility. Much like this Blog. This ignores the seminal truth: that JFNA was bequeathed the absolute moral obligation to advocate for the exercise of collective responsibility. Instead, its professional leaders clearly can't comprehend even the concept and, truth be told, many of its lay leaders can't be bothered.

It was a nice letter. A really nice letter.


Monday, January 11, 2016


When my friend Andy Groveman was installed as the Chair of United Israel Appeal, he sent a book that had inspired him to leadership to the UIA Board and to the officers of JFNA, including the CEO/President, Smilin' Jerry Silverman. The book On Thinking Institutionally, by Professor Hugh Heclo is compelling, truly "must reading" for anyone aspiring to institutional leadership -- I wish I had read it in 2008, the year of its publication; I wish Professor Heclo had written it 40 years ago so that I might have had it as a guidepost as I began my work in Jewish organizational leadership. It's just that important.

Heclo's analysis of organizational growth, leadership and death, is filled with conclusions, with which most of us would agree, I am certain. One that sticks with me, even today, weeks after reading, is this:
"Lies, short-term thinking, self-promotion, denigration of duty, disregard for larger purposes -- all these amount to one common syndrome serving to undermine social trust and institutional values. The names of particular persons and organizations fade from our memory, only to be replaced by the next day's news of scandal and short-sighted stupidity. A lack of institutional thinking may not be the whole story, but there is a common thread  about people neglecting and dishonoring the longer-term values of the going concern of which they are a part." (Emphasis added.)
In too many places today...and, in particular, at JFNA...the kind of critical thinking about the values that underpin Jewish organizations is just not taking place but the neglect and dishonoring of the "the longer-term values" are taking place every day.

Professor Heclo would have a lot to say about JFNA just as he has about failing organizations everywhere. Then, after reading On Thinking Institutionally, I was privileged to read the brilliant and touching commencement address delivered to the recipients of  Masters of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies from the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, by Jim Rosenberg, the Chief of Staff at the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Jim is but one of a significant group of dedicated young professional leaders here: our community is truly blessed. Jim's speech was touching and profound with major insights into the values that Heclo has analyzed and which Jim offers us as his guiding principles. 

I could share with you, my friends, so many insights, but just one will suffice. Jim offers, as a guiding leadership principle, the words of Chicago's great senior professional, the remarkable Michael Kotzin, z'l, who passed away so recently:
"A conclusion I came to shortly after I started working at the Federation, as I tried to account for its success on many fronts, was that it was at once attached to earlier ways of doing things and at the same time committed to exploring new approaches. In both cases its agenda and style were driven by what needed to be done. [And] while we indeed need to take innovative steps, we also need to maintain those traditional steps which continue to work, with our goal not being to merely throw out the old and bring in the new but rather to draw upon what is both old and new, using whatever approach (or combination of them) best satisfies the needs we are trying to address."
Such a simple formula for organizational success. And, yet...and, yet... is the management guru, Jim Collins, once a Plenary speaker at a once well-attended GA, who made it clear that an institution, one like JFNA, a child of merger, can only succeed if built upon the "core values and timeless principles" of its predecessors. From what I read in On Thinking Institutionally, Professor Heclo would absolutely agree. Yet, the attempts by Smilin' Jerry and the Board Chairs who preceded Richard Sandler to wholly erase institutional memory have been the truly negative success of the organization during their time in what they called "leadership." Friends, there are but few left at 25 Broadway with even an inkling of the organization's, the system's, core values and timeless principles. What we have at 25 Broadway is that which Helco described in the paragraph quoted above. 

This must stop. Richard Sandler and his leadership cannot be satisfied until it does. Thanks to Andy Groveman for sharing this work that so inspired his leadership path with all of us.