Friday, June 24, 2016

THE COLLAPSE OF THE COLLECTIVE

In response to my lament over the collapse of collective responsibility as embodied in the futility of the National agencies-Federation Alliance, an Anonymous Commentator (I actually believe that I can intuit whom it was) wrote:
"Imagine for a moment that "collective responsibility" created entitlement and fostered a lack of transparency and accountability.
Imagine....
Now imagine that smart, thoughtful Federations from NY to LA are defining a new "collective responsibilty" based on strategy, donor engagement, priority setting, measurable outcomes and partnerships."
I have a vivid imagination in particular as I can actually imagine a continental organization of excellence, and while I am a dreamer, I dream with a sense of realism. And I fear that our correspondent may not fully understand what "collective responsibility" truly means.

Let me explain...

At the outset all of us would agree that there have been beneficiaries of our collective effort which have demonstrated a sense of "entitlement...a lack of transparency and accountability." And I would suggest that no organization better evidences all of those than does JFNA where our Dues are an expression of collective effort. And I have no doubt that if our "donors"/the federations -- to JFNA, JAFI, JDC, the Alliance or other -- demanded transformational change, transparency and accountability, change would occur. Instead, too many of us just take our marbles and move on to the next shiny object.

And let's fully understand that "collective action" is not that of any individual federation or any two or three -- it is the cumulative action of the many, if not all. So, for example, if Federation A determines that it shall drastically cut its allocation to, e.g., JAFI, to reallocate its global resources to, let's say, the Israel Trauma Coalition, that's an action that's neither "smart" nor "thoughtful" let alone impactful as would be the collective actions of multiple communities working together toward a collective goal. In far too many circumstances that I have observed over the years, individual federations have camouflaged themselves in the blanket of "collective action" to rationalize what was/is nothing more than a grant of limited impact. ..often very limited. For example, in the midst of Operation Promise of blessed memory, one Large City held back $150,000 in funds raised for the collective action in response to a War on Israel and, instead, allocated 30 tiny grants to small and large Israel-based charities. When I asked that community's Israel Representative why the funds were allocated for the collective purpose for which they were raised, he responded that the community liked to "expand its influence in Israel." I suggested that $5,000 per grant would have no impact on the beneficiaries -- the Rep just shrugged.

Back to the quote above from my Anonymous friend: I, and all of you, want what the writer believes he and his community are getting --  "donor engagement, priority setting, measurable outcomes and partnerships." The writer clearly believes that neither he nor his community (nor anyone for that matter) are getting those vital elements of any allocation from the historic beneficiaries -- and I am betting that those include JAFI and JDC.

As the discussion ensued, one Commentator offered the perfect riposte:
"Federations are supposed to be the central fundraising arm for the community and for overseas partners who are not represented at the table. There are lots of advantages to this structure, not the least of which is that every organization can concentrate on its mission while federation concentrates on providing the resources, every donor can give one gift that covers lots of beneficiaries thus not being put in apposition of competing forces asking for donations, beneficiary agencies avoiding having to develop their own fundraising budgets, staff and so forth. JFNA (or some national organization) needs to be the model for federations promoting all beneficiaries. Instead this is what we get - a national organization that chews up and spits out $30 mil annually, fails to advocate and represent the international organizations, and forces the national organizations that we created to service the local agencies to become independent fundraisers. (BTW - what will now happen as federations raise less money and they give less money to their own beneficiaries as well - the national organizations of these local beneficiaries will now need to compete directly with the local agency they represent for the same dollars from the same donors. And if you pull your head out of the sand you will see that in very few cases will the donor select the national agency over funding the local agency they are supposed to be servicing."
So, for those of you who would rather see your community pursue its own new sort of shiny objects than attempt the reformation of the beneficiaries of our collective efforts for a greater good, and sacrifice the potential of macro benefits from collective action for the short term micro benefits of "a little here, a little there" -- wishing you all the best.

Rwexler

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

JFNA -- A BREAKTHROUGH OR FALSE HOPE?

Let's say you are a Consultant with a proven and very successful track record -- assisting a long list of communities and agencies, national and international, in their financial resource development planning and execution. It must have appeared very attractive, seductive even, to be pursued by Smilin' Jerry S. to prepare an FRD plan for JFNA that, upon its execution, would/might/might not revive financial resource development within the organization from which the Consultant had been unceremoniously forced to her choice to leave but a few years past. (In fact, that ugly episode, engineered by Jerry's predecessor in the worst possible way, was the catalyst for this Blog.)

The Consultant is too smart not to have known that his/her hiring was at the outset but a fig leaf conjured by Silverman to cover up the ugly reality that he and his then Board Chair had induced Harold Gernsbacher to take the National Campaign Chairmanship with illusory promises of the earth, the wind and the stars -- "anything you want, Harold, you've got" -- desperate as they were after being rejected by others for the position. Harold had apparently failed to notice that there was a total void in the once mighty Campaign Department with no Campaign Executive Committee/Cabinet; no campaign effort...just some constituencies and nothing but a bloated budget with almost no senior staff and almost nothing on which to spend it. The Consultant clearly knew all of this. And the Consultant is on the cusp of a miraculous rebuild of FRD.

So the JFNA's campaign area void presented the Consultant with what must have appeared to be a Consultant's dream -- the ultimate tabula rasa: a blank slate that the Consultant could fill in with only the National Campaign Chair's and Jerry Silverman's input (this was the first National Campaign Chair who had no lay partners whatsoever) and what should  have been a large, large contract, the amount of which is quite obviously none of our business (never is). The Consultant went forward; the Plan was completed and presented (to whom beyond Harold, the Smilin' One and, maybe...maybe...Richard Sandler, remain unknown) by the 2015 GA. And, then...Miracle of miracles...

The Consultant, out of a sense of obligation and commitment, has searched like it's the "Where's Waldo?" mystery ever since that GA for a set of campaign professionals to lead/build from scratch the JFNA FRD effort. Another daunting assignment. We have heard that the Consultant was able to interest one great professional to lead the "Department" but Smilin' Jerry refused that person's compensation demands (it's hysterical that this guy would reject someone because their salary and benefits demands were "too high" given his own), failing to realize that working on FRD under Silverman might be, would be, an assignment worthy of hazard pay. I have no doubt but no proof that Jerry has by now offered the Consultant...the Consultant him/herself...the position, using the same method that attracted Gernsbacher to the Campaign Chair position -- you remember, the earth, the wind and the stars -- "anything you want, you've got." Uh huh. I think that the Consultant is too smart to fall for that one. But...one never knows. But, the Consultant is now Jerry's/JFNA's publicly oft-praised "Senior Consultant." Quite a deal.

At this point the Consultant has worked awfully hard to attract a core group of senior professionals -- most of whom are rumored to be joining with federation experience, many among the best and brightest, to lead the implementation of various critical areas of the FRD Plan. The names we have heard bandied about promise top-drawer talent for the first time: but, so far, this "Dream Team" is just that -- a "dream."  In addition, in place is a top pro transferring from Mandel to the role of "Chief FRD Operations/FRD COO" (or something similar). Yet, Jerry has shown a remarkable talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory; if he blows the opportunities created by the unseen FRD Plan, there is no saving him. Further, as the Chicago Bears discovered in the 1980's, it's hard to hire the Head Coach when you already have in place your most senior Assistant Coach(es). But...offer enough money...and you never know.

At a moment in time in which Giving USA reported that "Overall giving to Jewish federations declined over the past 25 years, showing that individual donations dropped 37.6% in inflation adjusted dollars between 1991 and 2015" (emphasis the authors), JFNA, under its current leadership was totally devoid of a professional staff capable of offering any real assistance to its owners -- the federations -- in this vital area. So, here we are -- a Consulting contract, maybe two; a Consultant's FRD Plan that has finally seen the light of day (except as first cut and pasted into the 2016-17 Budget; then distributed at the June Board meeting, six months after completion), apparently suppressed by JFNA leadership, but about to be implemented in the best ways (please G-d); an emergent Campaign senior professional staff with the potential for a real breakthrough though still without any Senior V-P FRD;  and an FRD staff  of excellence being lined up to be slotted into the FRD boxes from which they may ultimately work.  If this all doesn't work, the Consultant, in an act of both self-pride and professionalism should tell the Smilin' One to take this assignment and shove it. . 

But not quite yet.

Rwexler

* Just weeks ago, JFNA quietly named a Mandel professional as the "Chief Operating Officer" of FRD -- "managing" the day-to-day "work" of FRD but this professional will not be the ever-elusive Senior V-P, FRD who is supposedly the focus of a continuing search. Seems to this historian that this is an exact parallel to the FRD model that resulted inJFNA Consulting Services takeover of JFNA FRD  functions -- and the failure of that effort.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

MICROCOSM

The National Agencies-Federation Alliance, intended to be a source of continental federation evaluation, vetting and funding the system's national agencies has, since its inception been, really none of those things. The system-created National agencies have been the system's abandoned step-children, required to plead for the leftovers from the big boy/girl table year-in and year-out. Hell, I've written about this sorry mess so often, you faithful readers know how much I believe that "The Alliance" is so woeful it is nothing more than JFNA in microcosm.

Curiously, The Alliance was the outgrowth of a Commission formed back in the early days of then United Jewish Communities, and chaired by the then Chair of the New York UJA-Federation, Louise Greilsheimer, who shortly after the "Greilsheimer Commission" threw up its hands in despair at ever reaching consensus, led the formation of The Alliance. Shortly thereafter Louise walked away into a professional career at New York's UJA where one of her "responsibilities" apparently was to threaten The Alliance with drastic cuts from New York-UJA (which was then providing [and continued to provide] a disproportionate share of ther "voluntary" allocation to The Alliance). 

And, then, in the midst of the last fiscal year, JFNA, not a qualifying Agency and exempt from The Alliance's elaborate reporting requirements, demanded and received a $500,000 (I might be off by a bit) "grant" ("stolen" from the under-allocations to the qualifying Agencies) to "quick start" JFNA's "Education Unit." That's internal FRD under Silverman. And, now:

"From: Kline, Stephan 

Sent: Friday, June 17, 2016 11:26 AM
Subject: Alliance Funding Announcement

The National Federation/Agency Alliance (Alliance) is a coalition of 30 federations that provide core (undesignated) financial support to the national agencies listed below. Many of these national agencies have been long-time historic partners of the Jewish Federations and engage in extremely important work on behalf of the federation system and the national Jewish community. 

For a number of years, UJA-Federation of New York has been the largest sustaining member of the Alliance and currently allocates almost $1.6 million or 38% of the overall funding pool. Yesterday, UJA-Federation informed us that it will discontinue its support to the Alliance, effective June 30, 2017, given the long-standing challenges in broadening financial support across the Federation system for the Alliance funding process. 
We recognize that New York’s departure from the Alliance will have significant implications for the Alliance process. Over the next few months the Alliance will be working with you to explore next steps.
          Shabbat shalom,
Stephan Kline, Coordinator, National Federation/Agency Alliance"Marcie Orley, Chair, National Federation/Agency Alliance
Shabbat shalom -- really!!?? That's the best JFNA's Alliance lay and professional leaders can do? Do you think that they even recognize that this is the end game for the collective responsibility that was supposed to be embodied in The Alliance?

Here's the historic reality -- New York had made its intention known for years. And, for years, JFNA has pled with New York "please, please don't." Yes, friends, once again and as always, JFNA's leaders were sound asleep assured that certainly New York UJA would do nothing.  Instead of "broadening financial support" for the National agencies, instead of expanding the number of federations participating in The Alliance, JFNA qua JFNA did what it always does -- nothing; apparently believing that New York just "would never do it." (This while The Alliance leaders for reasons unclear expanded the number of agency participants include Jewish World Service and BBYO, neither a federation agency, while, as noted above, granting significant dollars to JFNA itself [an amount that will increase in 2016-2017 and subsequent years to $900,000].) It is JFNA in microcosm

The level of disgust just keeps rising. And, ain't nobody doin' nothin' about it. Shame on all of us.

Rwexler

Friday, June 17, 2016

OF BEANIE FELDSTEIN...AND OTHER MATTERS

1. This November we'll have another "all New GA" -- better in so many ways (what with another $250,000 pumped into the Budget for the thing) and promising a program that will attract another 10% increase in federation leader participation  (I think that would be about 70 more registrants or, considering the subsidy -- $3,571/additional registrant). But, if you look at the 2015-2016 Budget, then the organization was striving for another 10% increase of just lay registrants; now its lay and professional leaders. What was Daniel Turnham's demand: "make no little plans?" For JFNA, it's but slightly modified: "Only make tiny plans."

Already the Program is in formation:

  • Rather than star Debra Messing, this year it will be the new Hollywood millennial, Beanie Feldstein, you've no doubt heard of her;
  • For the annual Supreme Court Justice appearance, we don't know exactly which Justice it shall be just that it won't be Antony Scalia, because he's dead. I'm thinking it's going to be Justice Merrick Garland (a person can hope, can't one). We have already learned that, once again, one of my heroes, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be back;
  • Rather than Boogie Herzog for the Israeli opposition, it may be Bogey Ya'alon, provided he has not by then rejoined the Coalition;
2. Is there something further to hide? Sure, you may ask until the cows come home, until pigs fly, for, for example, which JFNA consultants are being paid how much and for what (hellloooo, Debra K. Smith) -- but you will never learn the answer. Or you may ask why, as of June 30, 2016 JFNA still has posted on its website the 2013 990. Why is that? More to hide by this "most transparent" of organizations? Just don't hold your collective breath...ever.

3. Back pre-merger -- so that's way, way back -- we used to hear the predictions (that we still hear approaching two decades later) -- "we are about to experience the largest transfer of Jewish wealth...in the trillions of dollars. One would think, wouldn't one, that JFNA would be spearheading a major educational effort to educate Federation Endowment and Foundation leaders with best practices in how to capture a fair measure of these "trillions." But, in fact, there just isn't much of that education and training going on. You may now again ask "why?"

4. And, on the "why" front, why do JFNA's leaders, starting at the very top of the professional pyramid think it's worth bragging about and self-congratulating now that JFNA no longer engages in the distribution of best practices, in the convening of communities to engage with each other on successful experiments (except, of course, when GAs role around and Federations are actively promoted). So it's apparently a really, really big deal that JFNA provides a web vehicle for federations to seek assistance from each other. Can JFNA Jerry really take credit for this? Will we wake up one morning and discover that...poof...JFNA has just plain disappeared? Unless it's gone already and no one noticed?

5. You know my sense that reading comprehension among JFNA leaders is a serious problem; couple that with the inanity that is FedWorld. Those who edit that expensive albeit worthless publication came up with this recently:
"The newly released Giving USA Foundation annual report reveals that charitable giving in the U.S. has reached a record high for a second year in a row."
Ok, that was true BUT might there have been some mention that another, more relevant study also found that federation fund raising had fallen through the floor over the same time frame. Oh, I forgot, never is heard a discouraging word....and, of course, if properly reported, someone(s) might suggest that an effective continental organization might have helped/might help to make a difference on that score.

Helllloooooo Richard Sandler...wherever you aren't.
Rwexler

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

LONG AND SHORT CONS

Think of it this way: #ish and the TribeFestivii were the short cons; the Global Planning Table and the JFNA Budget were/are the long cons. But, there are and have been more...many more:

  • While writing a Post on a different subject entirely, I looked for the current whereabouts of a long-time CJF and, then, JFNA staffer -- good guy, excellent player of the bureaucracy, who maneuvered within JFNA from community consulting and leading disaster relief efforts (in both of which he excelled) before falling victim to an idiotic reorganization engineered by the then CEO which put him "in charge" of FRD. Forget that he had no experience in or leadership of FRD -- some saw the reengineering as merely a means of forcing out some excellent, creative FRD senior professionals -- that "worked" as only "worked" is defined within JFNA. so, I found this pro's CV at his new position and found that he has now taken credit for the very innovative FRD efforts of others, among other things, That's the way it sometimes works for JFNA alumni.
  • Back in Fall 2013, when some thought there was a chance that Jerry Silverman might actually emerge from the miserable cocoon he had been in as a full-fledged butterfly, he proved the hopeful wrong with the publication of a White Paper -- The Jewish Federations of North America Serving the Federation Movement. Even a cursory reading of the Long Con Paper revealed that JFNA had not a single new Initiative since the UJA/CJF years. But, some viewed those as "progress."
  • At almost the same time -- October 2013 -- the then Board Chair announced the Long Con "implementation of the Strategic Initiatives." JFNA announced it would now be the "convener of information and ideas." Uh huh -- even appointed a senior professional to the role of Vice President, Institutional Advancement, Thought Leadership. Great title -- in 2-1/2 years I haven't really seen much in the way of either Institutional Advancement or Thought Leadership -- but that's just me. 
  • There was the announcement in 2014 of the Volunteer Leadership Development Program -- which JFNA rolled out as Yasod only, apparently, to have been apprised, probably by the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence which was to run the program, that it should have been Yesod, which is a Hebrew word which actually has some meaning. But, a rose is a rose, is a rose. So, a curriculum was developed for these volunteer leaders as if the Wexner Program or the Young Leadership Cabinets or local federation-driven leadership development programs didn't exist. The Yesod curriculum for one community was described as follows: "used the national Yesod curriculum, which combined Jewish texts with modern resources such as TED Talks and Harvard Business Review articles, and customized it for local leaders." At last count, JFNA budgeted $3.3 million -- that's $3,300,000!! -- for Mandel to do JFNA's work.
  • You may have noticed, perhaps in your own communities, that the public celebrations of Yom Ha'Atzmaut, once a highlight of the Jewish communal calendar, were either wholly abandoned this year or were no longer considered a federation responsibility as they had been for so long. Never has Israel needed our public support more than in this era of BDS and anti-Israel protests seemingly everywhere. But, quietly...shhh...the federation movement in too many places has abandoned the celebration of Israel's birthday. A real self-confident continental organization would have understood that rallying the federations in support of Israel is one of its sacred responsibilities -- for JFNA...never mind. Sure, many federations would ignore a continental initiative, but that should never be an excuse for doing nothing.
  • And, the longest con of all -- the Global Planning Table and its preposterous top-down sub-parts -- the Signature Initiatives -- you surely remember the unlamented passing of JQuest, The Israel Children's Zone, The Israel Religious Expression Platform (which continues in some form as the "volunteer" iRep). And one should add to these chapters in failure and lack of leadership and no Federation FRD the Government of Israel/World Jewry Initiative frustrated by a lack of leadership at every level and cooption by the Government of Israel and the immediate past Chair of UIA (who some tell me is now pursuing this illusive goal under the claimed aegis of the Minister of  Diaspora Affairs, Naftali Bennet, who engineered the cooption of "World Jewry to begin with.
  • And, of course, the so-called "JFNA Budget."
Oh, there's more, so much more. At JFNA we have a professional and lay leadership that has mastered the art of embellishment, the art of self-promotion and self-congratulations (for almost nothing) and the art of the con -- conning themselves and us at one and the same time. I sometimes think that Sandler and Silverman ought to be out on the street in front of 25 Broadway, with a card table and Three-Card Monte.

Someone once said that you should study the past to divine the future. Uh huh.

Rwexler

Sunday, June 12, 2016

WE LIVE IN STRANGE AND NOT SO GOOD TIMES

Who would have thought...

  1. That the first Jewish candidate for President would be the only candidate to attack Israel for what he characterized as its "disproportionate response" to the rocket attacks from Gaza in 2014 and premised that canard on the total fabrication of 40,000 deaths "caused" by Israel. He later reduced that number to 1,500 but the damage had been done.
  2. The presumptive so-called "Republican" candidate for President who could appear before a Jewish audience and talk about "you Jews," and, later, "you people." And, yet, there are among us, no doubt, many, many whose hatred of anything Democratic, anything Hillary, who will support this P.T. Barnum for President of the United States.
  3. A good friend who believes that all Democrats are evil, has convinced himself that Trump offers a "strong foreign policy." His hatred of Hillary trumps (pardon me)  reason.
  4. That Jumping Jerry Silverman would write a paean to our Memorial Day (including a history lesson)  suggesting that few, if any, of us have heard of the National Moment of Remembrance on Israel's own Memorial Day  (nb, Jerry, it's Yom HaZikaron). Maybe Jerry just experienced this moment for the first time and was unaware of it himself because I would wager that almost all of us have not only heard of this somber day of recommitment but have actually experienced it. 
  5. That the Smilin' One didn't write in celebration of Yom Ha'Atzmaut let alone call upon those of our communities which have abandoned federation support of public celebrations of Israel's birthday rededicate themselves to the centrality of Israel in our lives by renewing their sponsorship. Instead, Silverman used his message on Israel's birthday to express his own misgivings about Israel among other things. 
  6. Some of you suggested that JFNA has an ownership interest in J-Pro, the organization that sponsored a successful annual conference a few weeks ago in Columbus Ohio. No, in fact, all JFNA does is provide office space at 25 Broadway to that organization, whose budget is so small that it needs significant additional financial support. But, you know JFNA -- "can't spare a square."
And so it goes in Lake Woebegone.

Rwexler

Thursday, June 9, 2016

MAKING THE BAD OLD DAYS LOOK BETTER

I have to admit that they are pretty clever at 25 Broadway, those so superb leaders of JFNA. Yes, indeed, they can even make the worst of just a few years ago look better in comparison with the pathetic state of today. How. you ask? 

Well, back in January 2012, the ever obedient then National Campaign Chair presented a report -- Philanthropic Resources Support Services to Federations -- so preposterous that it was astounding that it could have been presented with a straight face. The fact was back then that the report was copied almost entirely from one that had been drafted five years earlier which, in turn, had been cut and pasted from one prepared at UJA some 15 years earlier, when I was National Campaign Chair. Listed in the JFNA piece were a preposterous 97 programs in which the Philanthropic Resources Department was "engaged." The puffery was so preposterous that the "programs" included such as "NYL Cabinet Shabbaton at the GA" or the then failed TribeFest, or Boutique Missions (of which there had been none) and similar.

That was then...and this is the now -- Philanthropic Resources has a National Chair, a Consultant, a staff of 45 newly managed, a large budget (50% of the $30 million Dues Budget is a lot of money)...and nothing else. We have reached such a sorry state at JFNA that the fictions in  that 2012 Report now becomes the halcyon day of yore. The leadership, such as it is, the Board, such as they are, could care less about what is not happening with our donors' dollars any more than they care about what is happening.

But, on these pages you have written haven't you, they ask, that Richard Sandler does care, a lot; and has verbalized the need for a strong JFNA? Yeah, I have. I know that Richard doesn't suffer fools and, like his predecessors, he is motivated by Jewish values and, in Richard's case, by his vision of what JFNA can/should be. You note that Sandler must see what a failure JFNA has become -- no FRD, no Consulting Services to federations, an uncontrolled/unmanaged silo in Jerusalem producing nothing, a JFNA producing nothing beyond some programs run by highly compensated Consultants and the brilliant grant work of JFNA-Washington.

So, you have asked: why doesn't Sandler do what surely he knows must be done? Well, we all like shalom, don't we? On a personal basis I know that Richard likes Jerry, and, were there some weighing the pros and cons of Jerry's leadership, like might be a make-weight in a judgment of his leadership. But, with a record like that of JFNA under this CEO, how could like make a bit of difference? Then, there are among the JFNA's highest non-governance body -- its Advisory Council -- some who participated in hiring the Smilin' One and who, since that moment in time, have been unable to see anything wrong in how JFNA has been mis-managed, hard as that may be to believe -- how could they see it with their heads in the sand? And, then there is inertia -- it is so much easier to do nothing, to take no action. After all, other than the malcontents, does anyone really give a damn -- and why should Sandler pay any attention to those, to us?

Seven months into Richard's first year as Board Chair and he is already approaching the same paralysis that afflicted his predecessor for Michael Siegal's three years. Like Michael, Sandler knows what must be done, what should be done. His refusal to act on what he knows will doom his years as Chair as it did Siegal's leaving Richard, at the end, as history left Michael -- trying to conjure up a few winning moments from three years of institutional failure. 

I know that Michael Siegal cared; I know that Richard Sandler cares. But the gap between caring and acting is too wide to overcome. As Nike said: "just do it."

Rwexler

Monday, June 6, 2016

THE INFLECTION POINT


I am just a voyeur at an ugly, sad tragedy. I don’t like it.

Approaching 7 years ago (G-d, has this been going on for 7 years??) at the demand of a self-centered Chair with the acquiescence of a Search Committee eager to please her, and with total disregard for the impact upon the institution they were charged to steward, JFNA parachuted a know-nothing into a land where he neither understood the language nor possessed the intellect to learn it.  

This was the inflection point for JFNA. The point at which JFNA turned away from assisting communities (except at times of natural disasters and through the  great work of the long-standing Washington Office) and turned entirely to self-promotion, led, at almost all levels of its professional staff and consultants by those who have never worked in a Jewish Federation in their lives.* For, from its then newly-minted CEO, to its professional leader of JFNA-Israel, from its sole-sourced Global Planning Table Consultant, straight through the current FRD consultant…not a day has been spent working inside on a federation staff. (Before Jerry even began his CEO stint, at a meeting in Chicago, I urged him to pick a federation at each City-size and then to go spend one week in each of those Federation offices "shadowing" a Federation CEO -- he, of course, said "I'll get back to you"...and then, mirabile dictu, never did.)

Silverman's disqualifying flaws as CEO have metastasized throughout the organization.  
Maybe Becky Caspi is to Jerry as Ben Rhodes has portrayed himself to be to Obama. And…that’s how she has kept her job. But, look around at JFNA's silos, and other than in its grantsmanship and some planned but as yet unimplemented FRD restructuring, nothing is happening.

And while Jerry smiles away, the truth for him is: You cannot recruit, you cannot train, you cannot retain, you cannot administrate. This, friends, is "failure" writ large.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "You cannot achieve greatness without enthusiasm." Look at the best of community CEOs historically -- viz, Nasatir, Hoffman, Larry Fine, Darrell Freedman, John Ruskay, Barry Shrage, Alan Gill, Howard Rieger and so many others -- they are/were infused with enthusiasm for the cause and for the great communal work right to and through today or their retirement no matter what I think or thought of their results. 

And, then, there is Jerry Silverman. Approaching 7 years of chasing little shiny objects and, usually, without success. That is, of course, unless you believe that no Sr. V-P FRD, no Sr. V-P Community Consultation, a silo in Israel running amok, a succession of failed GAs -- maybe a great marketer can paint those as successes. Can you? When Michal Siegal announced that he and some small group of leaders with whom he consulted couldn't conjure up any triumphs -- instead he read a document that suggested somehow JFNA was now on the cusp of imagined transformational change. Since that announcement, you tell me: what change have you seen? Name one...just one...please.

There is a form of institutional psychopathy at work -- it's reflected in a group mentality that rejects everything and anything that is outside the narrative set by the few and trusted; and the few and trusted just can't be bothered with evaluation because they are "too busy and, anyway, everything is fine."

Well, friends, look around if you can; you might notice things are getting progressively worse -- any, then, you might commit to doing something about it.

A guy can dream can't he?

Rwexler

* I apologize as I have forgotten that Mark Gurvis joined JFNA after 29 years in the federation field -- the exception that proved the rule, I think.

Friday, June 3, 2016

PLENTY OF BLAME TO GO AROUND

Recently, in response to our Post on Silence, a lively albeit Anonymous dialogue took place on these pages as to where "blame" for the mess (some might call it the "Manning/Silverman Mess") JFNA is in and from which it seems impossible to extract itself. Some asserted that it's not the Federation CEOs who were/are responsible; others said sure they are; and, still others asserted that this mess is purely that laid at the feet of JFNA's lay leadership alone. 

Hell, I say, there is plenty...more than enough...of blame to go around. Let us count the ways.

Certainly, at the outset, at the time of Smilin' Jerry's hiring, it was Kathy Manning who brilliantly, giving "credit" where "credit" is due (if that's what you call it), brilliantly maneuvered a small group of willing lay sycophants to select as the successor CEO to a series of retired federation chief professionals who had preceded Silverman without measurable successes Silverman, who, upon further review, had no federation background or experience and lacked any ability to make a difference or influence transformational change at JFNA. As we recorded on these pages in real time, none of these failings should have been a surprise to anyone...anyone except those blinded by their sycophancy. 

And, where were the federation CEOs at that time? Well, they couldn't find a willing candidate of their own (the Large City Executives, in reality, rarely agree on anything) and the best and brightest of them didn't want the position, having grown fat and happy, as they were/are within their own fiefdoms. Further, among those lay leaders selected/self-selected by Manning to serve on the "inside Search Executive Committee" were some with real influence among their communal chief executives. So, once the hiring of Jerry was foisted upon the insider Search Screening Committee, it was cooption all around.

That was then; but those same circumstances didn't exist when it came to "extension time." After all, there had now been five...count 'em, five...consecutive years of failure; five years with nothing to show for about $3.5 million (+/-) in compensation wasted. When JFNA's first CEO -- a great federation chief professional -- had to go after but two years, the LCE "confessed error" and Steve Hoffman stepped to the fore. As the time for an extension/termination decision approach, there was almost...almost...unanimity that Silverman was not up to the demands of this oh-so-complicated position. And, yet, while the Federation CEOs might have mocked Jerry to each other in private, in reality they had "no problem" with him so long as they could play Edgar Bergen to Jerry's Charlie McCarthy. After all, Hoffman and Rieger, Silverman's predecessors actually pushed the federations for action; Jerry was no problem, he didn't know how or where or whom to push or on what issue. 

Even as the federations, individually and collectively, have received fewer and fewer services, and the JFNA staff has, either intentionally or through sheer ineptitude, been rendered void of almost any professionals with any federation experience, never is heard a discouraging word...well, hardly ever.

As for the lay leadership, as we have discussed on these Posts admittedly ad nauseam, they couldn't be bothered. Most could have cared less and many who knew better were apparently sufficiently well-stroked to just turn away. Some just found Jerry "likable" -- as if that were a sufficient criterion to be rewarded with $750,000 (+/-) in annual compensation and benefits. Again, all these leaders who have protected this CEO need only have asked themselves "is JFNA better today under Jerry Silverman's professional leadership than it was five years ago?" -- what would have proved to be nothing more than a rhetorical question had even been asked. And it wasn't even asked...ever. Even today. To paraphrase LBJ as President: "If the JFNA Board Chair can't do what he knows is the right thing to do; then what good is being the Board Chair?" Yep, just "what good is being Board Chair?"

Yes, there's plenty of blame to go around. It stinks.

Rwexler

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

THE ANNUAL BUDGET FOLLIES

Each year we all look forward to the annual JFNA Budget to see just how far the JFNA leadership -- and, specifically, its Budget and Finance Committee, the Treasure and the Board Chair -- can be pushed before their brains simply explode.  This year the Budget is simply an astonishing insult to the JFNA's lay leadership across the board. Candidly, I expected more from Jodi Schwartz and Richard Sandler. Instead we continue the charade -- every Budget year is sui generis; never are the prior years' results/failures measured; never is the chief professional officer held accountable. And on June 6 the jFNA Board will approve the Budget without change -- as it always does.

Let me begin by simply stating that I have seen the 2016-2017 Proposed Budget. I have compared it to the Budgets of prior years and to the best budget practices of federations and the old, gone but not forgotten UJA and CJF.  This year JFNA Board members are being given enough time to review a complex document,and can compare it to the fictions that were prior years' budgets, and, hopefully, they will finally do so. When I served on that Committee, in the fourth and fifth years of JFNA, Los Angeles had two members of the Committee -- terrific leaders. After the second year of their service, walking out of a meeting that, at the time actually had some substance, minor to be sure, but some, we were talking and they asked me: "What the hell are we doing here? We fly in the day before, then we show up, we're ignored, and we fly home." I picture most of the Budget Committee members in 2016 wondering the same thing.

Most of you who read this Blog with regularity know that I have strongly objected to using the Budget "process" as the internal planning mechanism for any organization -- especially a non-profit. The Budget should be the implementation vehicle for the organization's plans -- plans thought through, vetted with the owners  and, then and only then, funded followed by careful monitoring and evaluation. But, of course, not at JFNA. At JFNA, the Budget is and has been "the Plan," and that "Plan" has changed year-by-year-by year with seemingly no thought whatsoever. For example:

  • Last year the Budget was expressed in terms of Priority Program Goals ostensibly to answer the questions: "where can JFNA have the greatest impact for Federations and which programs can only a national system deliver?" Those questions have never been answered and certainly aren't in 2016-2017. 
  • Then, that 2015-2016 "Budget/Plan" focused on "five key areas" -- "Enhancing the fundraising impact of the ...system: Strengthening the human capital of the...system: Providing platforms for convening and collaboration; Coordinating and recommending domestic and international policy, advocacy and allocation priorities; and elevating the profile of the...system."
  • Of course, other than in its D.C. grants, in absolutely none of those priority areas did JFNA demonstrate competence let alone excellence and in most, abject failure. For example, the "goals" for FRD were so modest one would have expected total success even without a Senior Professional leading FRD -- but, no. 45 people...that's 45...on the FRD payroll and no leadership -- sounds like JFNA. And no one asks -- what were the millions used for?
  • And, we were assured...a.s.s.u.r.e.d...that because there were specified deliverables there would be constant and transparent monitoring and evaluation...and there were neither. JFNA lay leadership must examine and adopt the New York UJA model where a professional leader is in charge of measuring program success and reporting on success/failure; Yes, of course, JFNA of all organizations needs a Managing Director: Impact and Performance Assessment. It  won't happen, but can't one dream?
The Dues Budget -- revenue from Dues remains at $30 million (+) -- whereas JFNA's total Budget is at $53 million (registration and Mission fees, etc., and minimal additional fund raising). And the bottom line vacuum in planning continues while the organization claims it will suddenly engage in vigorous planning efforts in 2016-2017.

In the Budget document for 2016-2017 JFNA announced that it is "...committed to sharpening our focus on our core mission and aligning our resources and budget with that mission." That "mission," by the way, is unchanged from the days of UJA and CJF raising the seminal question: what the hell has JFNA been doing up to this point in time? (That's a rhetorical question -- we all know the answer.) Too many words, too little action.

Here's the "essential list of what JFNA seeks to achieve in support of our Federations..." in 2016-17. Maybe you've heard some of these things before:
  1. "Federation Relations -- Shift our business model from a program-centric to a customer-centric approach that deepens our relationship with individual Federations and our ability to deliver services that match their unique needs  (This should be enough to make you ill -- rebranding: our specialty)
  2. Planning -- Enhance the domestic and Israel/Overseas planning functions of the Federations (don't ask Jerry just how he might lead that given the lack of a planning function at 25 Broadway)
  3. Fundraising -- Strengthen the fundraising capacity of the Federations (does Mr. Silverman even realize that he has no senior FRD professional staff at 25 Broadway?) while abandoning real fund raising (except by its own constituencies) completely. I have been told that there are 45...count 'em, 45...FRD staff on the payroll with no senior professional leadership* Now there will be all kinds of "new" programs (most of which echo as "old wine in old bottles," truth be told) -- Major Gifts,  new FRD Education and Training department, new Supplemental Giving program and a  new FRD Community Consulting program -- absent almost any senior FRD professional leadership at this time let alone an FRD CEO, and, but for the National Campaign Chair, no lay leadership. Explain how that will work? Nope. Budget for FRD -- up by $324,000 while FTE are down by 2.5. Questions, anyone??
  4. Talent Development -- Strengthen the professional and lay leadership capacity of the Federation system (yet, Mandel determined to sunset its work in this area [funny JFNA failed to mention that]);  and without getting into whether Mandel competently performed JFNA has no internal capacity to accomplish this work. JFNA is out of the "Search" business -- the destruction off the proud Federation professional cadre is now a process "led" by the organization that should instead be leading its strengthening and development 
  5. Shared Services -- you have to wonder: was this Budget developed by just cherry-picking old Budget documents or what???
  6. Representation -- influence major issues and policies that affect North American Jewry, domestically and in relation to Israel, and respond to crises (I think this means more of the same). While critical areas of Federation need are living on fumes (or false promises), JFNA-Israel continues to be incredibly overfunded. The Budget for "Israel and Overseas" continues to amaze --2.-0 FTE in "Communications;' a new FTE for IRep and Negev Now (!!); another .6 FTE for something called "Israel Program and Planning" But, on the bright side, JFNA is no longer funding Sheatufim -- nice investment that wasn't. And Marketing and Communications, another ambitious silo, increases "Strategic Marketing and Communications to 10 FTE and a $400,000 budget bump (offset by a  corresponding cut to FedWeb.  
  7. Federation Brand" -- we'll strengthen it (Jerry believes that means getting his name in the media). See "Marketing and Communications" above.
Much of this exercise in fiction-writing is based on pure hope -- leadership's hope that Silverman can hire professionals who can implement these goals; professionals Jerry has never before been able to identify or hire. In the FRD area I'm just guessing that the narrative comes directly out of portions of the unseen "Agron Consultant Plan" but without the staffing or funding -- in other words...meaningless. How can anyone consider this Budget legitimate?

You will probably find of interest that JFNA is eliminating the "Talent Acquisition function within" Mandel -- actually abandoning it as Mandel phased out its work in that area, along with the the historic FEREP Program but, rest assured, friends, "JFNA remains committed to the Talent Acquisition focus." Whomever wrote this document, let alone those who approved it, should be ashamed.

And, given the propensity of JFNA to throw fresh money after failure, it will be "investing...an additional $250,000 in the GA program." In JFNA's words -- and this is true fiction -- "[T]his will help insure that we can build on (the GA's) growing success." OMG!! And, seeking of OMG, JFNA is increasing its theft of funds from  the National Agency Alliance Funding Pool from $350,000 to $819,000 (has the Alliance already approved this or is its approval no longer required?) for JFNA's own Education Unit. As you know, this is what JFNA calls fund raising.

And, as always, there is no disclosure of the compensation being paid to Jerry, or the amounts and extent of the JFNA consultant contracts outstanding -- because, well, frankly, it's none of the Trustees business.

And, please, don't worry. there will be constant program evaluation -- sure, just as in past years. If the past is prologue I guess that means there will be none. Please read the "Specific objectives for 2016-17" just as in last years Budget there were a set of "Objectives and Measures of Success." I urge Richard Sandler, if he has time, to review these and, then, do the right thing. But, most important, when will there be full disclosure of how the 2015-2016 Budget was applied -- ever? Where is accountability anywhere down the line at JFNA? Where is the demand, the outcry -- anywhere? 

There has to be real skepticism reading this Budget -- none will be expressed in public. It's just --sha sha, we're moving forward. Charles Bronfman recently wrote a fitting coda to the work of his and Andy Bronfman's, z'l,  ACBP Foundation. He closed that important tribute to their work and their partners as follows:
"We've discovered that everything can be measured, provided one sets standards and goals. That's true in many disciplines and not-for-profits should be no exception." (emphasis added)
JFNA believes that reciting standards and goals is all an organization needs to do; it doesn't mean you have to measure your performance -- G-d forbid.

Again. And Again we demonstrate the JFNA eternal truth: You can fool all of the people all of the time.

Rwexler

* Recently, a Mandel professional was named the "senior manager" of FRD -- yes, you may ask what she is managing.