Thursday, June 4, 2020

LEADERSHIP?

Very recently I opened an email to find the punim of the Chair of one of our international organizations smiling back at me. Once I recovered from the shock, I thought I would reflect on the evaporation of the most critical criteria for the ultimate leadership roles in our communal organizations: commitment and "commitment" means three things: time, the ability to inspire and, yes, money. Or, make that money, time and the ability to inspire. If any of these three are missing, find yourself another to lead.

And, what does "money" mean in the context of Jewish organizational leadership  It means one's personal capacity gift -- and that gift must inspire others to give to their capacity. Every organization with which I have been privileged to serve has been successful because its leaders have committed -- some even over-committed. I have participated in solicitations where gifts were driven by the solicitors' passion which, in turn, ignited passion in the solicited -- yes, a passion ignited by the solicitors' gift.

Let me offer an overly simplistic rule of successful organizations: you must assure that your Board Chairs/lay Presidents are giving to their capacity and that those gifts will motivate others to give. (Thus, one whose "capacity" might be a $5,000 annual gift, would only qualify for the Board Chair/President position of the organization to which that contribution flowed if leadership believed that a $5,000 gift would inspire others to give to their capacity; and, a $100,000 annual gift from one that organizational leadership knows is far below capacity would be a disqualifier.)

Thus, with all of my criticism on these pages of JFNA leaders over the years for positions taken/not taken, one that you have never heard or read would have been of their financial commitments to their home communities and to the Jewish People. From Charles Bronfman right through Mark Wilf, JFNA has elected leaders who are also incredible philanthropists. I have seen these wonderful examples across the best and most forward-driving organizations -- most recently at JNF where Ambassador Ronald Lauder, as Chair, and President Sol Lizerbram lead by the examples of their time, their ability to inspire and their financial commitment.

We are living through the worst of times for organizations dependent on the voluntary commitment of philanthropic dollars -- COVID-19 and, at best, a pandemic-driven recession. More than ever our organizations need to reexamine their leadership, the criteria to be employed, and the length of terms. Reading that one President of one of our important organizations, had been re-elected to a "second four-year term" shocked me. This means that no one within that entity's leadership rose to the level of electability for 8 years? 

Institutional introspection is long overdue. I'll be writing more about this in the weeks ahead,

Rwexler

Monday, May 18, 2020

ORGANIZATIONAL FOCUS DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC...OR NOT

Our agencies -- international, national and local -- are in the midst of the greatest threat to their financial survival as a consequence of the global pandemic. (I know, "thanks, Captain Obvious.") This has required almost all of them, along with their major funders, to tighten their belts and their foci; this should have been all of them.

Like many of you, I received an evite to a Jewish Council for Public Affairs Webinar that caught my attention (but not my interest) the topic of which surprised and saddened me. It is a Webinar that is part of a series: Jewish Advocacy During the Coronavirus. That would be a good thing, a positive contribution because, after all, we need Jewish Advocacy during these terrible times,. now more than ever. Then consider this Webinar topic: Front End Justice: Exploring Why Pretrial Reform is Needed. 

Friends, JCPA has clearly lost its way. Here are a selection of JCPA-sponsored Webinars in this "Series":

  • Building Bridges: Israeli and Palestinian Health Care Cooperation
  • Over 6 Million Americans are on Community Supervision: Reforming Pre-Trial, Parole and Probation
  • Coronavirus in Prisons, Jails: An Emergency We Need to Confront NOW
This commentary isn't to suggest that these topics aren't important, just asking where these "topics" fit within the priorities of the JCPA or the priroties of the communities which support local community relations councils. Just a guess -- nowhere. Maybe, somewhere, there is an important pilpul that would explain the connection; probably not.

The JCPA used to be an organization that focused on matters directly connecting communities to its agenda. And, that was at a time when funding was not under the kind of pressures being faced today and into the future. I sat on the JCPA Board and Executive than and, while I admit to real frustration with some of the Plenary debates back then, the subject matter was directly relevant to the Jewish community's social justice agenda.

Now? I have no more a clue than JCPA's leaders apparently have. And, worse, two factors:


  1. As the communities which support JCPA have moved, at the least, to the center if not center-right, JCPA has made some determination that it will find its support further to the left; and
  2. As the pandemic has rapidly eroded communal resources, JCPA's "message" and its "priorities" appear to have less and less relevance. Thus, on it merry way, JCPA devotes time, effort and resources to, e.g., Palestinian Health Care Cooperation and Reforming Pre-Trial, Parole and Probation...
Most organizations have strived under the horrific conditions of today to focus, to make themselves more relevant -- e.g., JCCA and its JCCs, the federations themselves. To fail to do so is an unconscionable expression of unearned organizational arrogance...

Leading inevitably to irrelevance.

Rwexler

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

PAST TIME FOR REFORM

Way, way back, 20 years ago, actually, in the course of the Merger that would produce what is now JFNA, the federations created a set of Task Forces to address the structure and issues that would propel the new organization post-Merger. One on Total FRD, another on Dues and Revenue and a third on Federation-Israel Relations. It is that last Task Force that is at the heart of this discussion.

Chaired by the inestimable Marvin Lender, one of the great United Jewish Appeal National Campaign Chairs (later in the process to be succeeded by Pittsburgh's Karen Shapira, z'l, another of the great leaders with whom I had the privilege to work) and "staffed" by Bob Aronson, then the Detroit Federation CEO. It was Bob's genius to propose a structure for the federations' Israel Office in a manner that would be cost-effective, influential in Israel's civil society and wholly responsive to federations' needs. 

And, of course, the reforms necessary to create this new model were never adopted. And that inaction took place at a time, at the turn of the century, when we as a continental polity could have, should have embraced change. What was proposed: among other matters:

  • Relocating the venue for JFNA Israel-Overseas to the New York HQ
  • Engaging a strong professional with a federation-centric approach as the Director: Israel & Overseas
  • Assuring that the organization's Israel-based Director General of the quality of Menachem Revivi and  Nachman Shai -- leaders with great access within the Government of Israel who would report to the NY-based Director of Israel & Overseas
  • Mobilizing the federation Israel representatives in aid of JFNA-Israel
  • Expanding the work of United Israel Appeal's Israel professionals within JFNA-Israel
And...none of these steps were implemented...not then and not now. Instead, for at least the last decade, as one of you wrote last week, JFNA-Israel has been "...outrageously inflated, unneeded and wasteful." Its lay leaders have been an echo chamber for the vast overstatement of "achievement" (the Negev Now Coalition), the creation and maintenance of a bloated staff (continuing) and the accretion of powers (the UIA fiasco).

No one has articulated a single reason...not one...to continue to support JFNA-Israel as currently structured or led. There has been no return on the federations' investment, not in 2020, just as there was none in 2010. Under the Silverman "administration," there was an inexplicable willingness to ignore this constant failure year-after-year. Ignorance must have been bliss.

In a year in which available financial resources be drastically reduced, the federations can no longer support failure, if they ever could.

Rwexler

Friday, May 1, 2020

OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN

It was a rare moment in the Chicago Jewish community. In 2007 the new, architecturally significant Spertus Institute Building opened within its magnificent glass facade on South Michigan Avenue -- housing classrooms, faculty offices, conference and Museum facilities. It was going to be the seminal achievement for the then Spertus Board and its former CEO who had driven the project.  And, then it wasn't.

Neither that Board nor that CEO had raised sufficient funds for the construction of the Institute's new home nor had they raised any endowment funds to cover income shortfalls, maintenance and the like; instead, they borrowed heavily. And they did all of this over the strong objections of the Jewish Federation which advised Spertus's leaders that Spertus leadership, having raised inadequate funds to support it: (1)  the project was not financially feasible and (2) the Federation should not, in the future, be expected to underwrite it or rescue it.

Spertus's leaders ignored the warnings and proceeded. The reviews of the building were ecstatic; nonetheless, the project soon went into default. Spertus's lender, asserting a multi-million dollar default, threatened foreclosure; and was tragically unwilling to negotiate. The CEO who spearheaded the development and who urged the Spertus Board on in the face of the Federation's warnings, was soon replaced as were a significant membership of the Board. The new leadership, with a dynamic duo in the persons of its new Board Chair and CEO, approached Federation which listened sympathetically to the successor leaders, commited as they were to rescue this visible communal/national institution. (I was asked to be Federation's liaison to the new Spertus Board working with the Spertus team.) During my time, candidly, little progress was made in meeting the lender's ever more Draconian demands. Portions of the building were put up for rent while Spertus sensed that it was staring down the barrell of a loaded gun.

And, then, Steve Nasatir identified a major donor who anonymously stepped forward with the funds necessary for a financial rescue, and further. funds tp support an endowment that would help to assure that the Institute could proceed without further financial threats to its existence were made available. 

That was a real rescue.

And, then, there is this...

The tragedy that is the National Museum of American Jewish History.

If Spertus Institute is the micro; this Museum is the macro. It's financial failure is the realization in real time of Santayana's warning -- you know the one about not learning from the mistakes of the past being doomed to repeat them. You know the one. 

The Museum's founders commited all of those errors that Chicago's Spertus leaders had fumbled only to the tune of 10s of millions more in debt -- and there was no Chicago federation to which to turn to be saved. These Museum Founders must have believed that "God will provide." Their edifice complex produced an architecturally significant White Elephant with a $150 million mortgage in default and no ability to pay it. Annual operating deficits compounded the debt. And, today, in the midst of the pandemic with attendant closures, there are no visitors, no revenue. As Robin Pogrebin, writing in The New York Times of the travails of the Tenement Museum and other cultural institutions, observed:
"They do not have large endowments or deep-pocketed donors, and have...depended on admission fees to keep the lights on...lW]ithout more suppoprt for rent, payroll, utilities, insurance and other costs...it's likely that many will be unable to reopen even once the worst is over." 
To his great credit, Dr. Misha Galperin -- who appears to enjoy the challenges of lost causes (after all Misha had served as CEO of JAID, the Jewish Agency International Development) -- agreed to step in as a CEO on a rescue mission -- he did so when only the Trump Administration had been told that the World was about to be devastated by the coronavirus. The Museum filed for bankruptcy on March 2 and, with no natural constituency, its attendance choked off by quarantine and a dismal total failed initial fund raising effort at a time of the stock markets in dramatic increase, there is every likelihood that this failure will be a national embarrassment on the National Independence Mall, Misha's cheerleading and FRD prowess notwithstanding.

Books will no doubt be written about this terrible failure. If the NMAJH leaders attempt to point to the virus as the proximate cause of this collapse, the record will show that that would be wrong...very wrong. In point of fact, the Museum's bankruptcy was baked into the reality that the fund-raising to support this project failed from Day One and those who "birthed" this Museum failed to act when the first indicia of failure were staring them in the face. 

And that is the real shame. I fear that in the face of the worldwide economic collapse, the Museum's failure will be but a footnote among many. 

Rwexler


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

INEXPLICABLE COMPOUNDED

So, the "leadership" of the Conference of Presidents, upon further review of its decision to nominate as its next Chair the immediate past Chair of HIAS, once an important Jewish organization and today neither important nor Jewish, decided to double down. As if its Nominating process wasn't sufficiently screwed up, that CoP "leadership" determined to (a) extend the term of its sitting Chair and (b) create the position of "Chair-elect" so that the Conference members might "get comfortable with" the nominee.

That not being enough, the same "leadership" decided that it would characterize the opposition to the nominee as being part of a "right wing" conspiracy, the easier to brush off legitimate concerns with the Chair nominee having led HIAS at a time of some incredibly bad institutional and political choices. And, of course, the outspoken opposition by the Zionist Organization of America and that entity's voice, Morton Klein, made it easier for the CoP to engage in sophism to divert attention from the sad choices it had made in process and substance. Regrettably, some reporters have bought into the sophistry lock, stock and barrel. See, e.g., Melissa Weiss writing of "...an uproar from right-wing groups" in JewishInsider -- even going so far as to accept the HIAS CEO's self-characterization  of HIAS as a "Jewish organization" which it once was but is no longer and hasn't been for a long time.

Bottom line, HIAS, once among the most critical Jewish organizations of any when it was the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, decided to eliminate Hebrew from its name and its work and evolved into just plain old HIAS, an acronym without meaning, and thereupon ceased being a Jewish organization with a non-Jewish refugee client base -- it had ceased being a major organization years earlier. 

Some day there will be some analysis of how an organization, with great professional leadership and some important lay leaders, could have put the organization in the position it finds itself, followed by the decision to mischaracterize all of those opposed to this nomination as being of "right wing groups." 

Whatever the end of this chapter may be; there is little chance that it will end well.

Rwexler




Sunday, April 26, 2020

INEXPLICABLE

As those of you who are long-time readers of this Blog will remember, your author holds no brief for the Zionist Organization of America, even as I appreciate that organization's unequivocal support of Israel and its political acumen under its President for Life, Morton Klein. I now find myself in agreement with the ZOA in its shock and in its opposition to the nomination of the immediate past Chair of HIAS to succeed Art Stark as Chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. I am, with ZOA's and many Conference leaders, in total disbelief, although my reasons may be different. And, while Jonathan Tobin, the prolific editor-in-chief of the Jewish News Syndicate, has framed his own question raised by the Conference's nomination -- Do the Jews really need a Conference of Presidents? -- there seems to this writer to be little reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

There are multiple reasons to oppose Dianne Lob's nomination, let alone her election, all of them compelling. None of those reasons suggest that she lacks great leadership skills: some of those reasons are more compelling than others. For example:
  1. HIAS is neither a "Major" Jewish Organization nor, for that matter, any longer a "Jewish" one. It was once one of the great Jewish entities; no longer. ( I served oin its Board and Executive back in my youth.)While the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society once was responsible for bringing Jewish immigants to America by the 10's of 1000's, the organization has eliminated Hebrew from its name and, in fact, now operates as an "acronym" supporting a general refugee population and, for reasons unclear, has joined with organizations whose raisons d'ĂȘtre are to oppose Israel. I have written before of the HIAS fund-raising letter I received at Pesach 2019 pleading for financial assistance for a Muslim refugee; a noble effort, one about which we were reminded in a strong JTA editorial supporting Lob's nomination (Conference of Presidents Names the Right Chair) but one which ignores HIAS' current stance that has disassociated itself from those same Jewish roots. Caring for the "stranger" has always been and should always remain part of the Jewish communal n'shama but is hardly a reason for HIAS' continuing membership on the CofP or for its past-Chair to be elected to lead it.
  2. Under Ms. Lob's leadership, HIAS made common cause with radical organizations and individuals which/who have stood opposed to the State of Israel. If the Conference quite properly opposed membership for JStreet, it is hard to conjure the arguments for Dianne Lob's Conference leadership. And, then, HIAS made a conscious politicasl decision to position itself as the Jewish Organization which not only opposed the Trump Administration's immigration policies but Trump himself. An ad featuring a HIAS v. Trump banner featured a fund raisng message built on that confrontation. Many of us oppose these policies ands the Administration's slavish devotion to them, but HIAS has made of its opposition a political act as well as a principled one.
  3. Since its inception, the Conference has been Chaired by men and women of incredible distinction, recognized American opinion leaders and influencers with total dedication to the State of Israel. Among them: Cardin, Lauder, Tisch, Abram, Stone, Zuckerman, Klutznick and Greenberg. The organizations which they led stood in support of Israel. I have no doubt that Dianne Lob is a wonderful person and strong leader but one would have to engage in real sophistry to argue that for purposes of election to the CoP Chair, one ahould ignore that but for her leadership service to HIAS she would not be considered for the new position. There are some at the Conference who in their support of Lob's candidacy who have argued that the CoP membership should divorce Lob from her HIAS leadership service -- sorry, it doesn't work that way.
I have reflected on these pages my personal hopes for William Daroff's success as the newly "ordained" Conference CEO while reflecting on how much more difficult that success is to achieve so long as the inestimable Malcolm Hoenlein remains in a very visible, public position as the organization's "Executive Vice-Chair" (even commenting to the press on the CoP professionals' hands'-off non-role in its Nominating process -- a comment that appears to be untrue). Now...this. If Hoenlein wants to be of real support to Daroff, he should have been/should be quietly urging CofP lay leaders to go back to the Nominating Committee drawing board and start over.

Rwexler


Tuesday, April 21, 2020

THE RISE AND FALL AND FALL AND FALL

Well, friends, it's time to get back to Blogging even as I pray that all of you are socially distancing, safe and protected.

All of us are experiencing the horrific impacts of this COVID-19 plague that has afflicted the World. The impacts on our families, ourselves, our People, our businesses are and will be devastating. While some optimists see the "day after" as one of opportunity, the realist in me strongly suggests that many of the Jewish organizations that we have helped to build will not survive -- at least not as they one were. 

And, that's where I would like to focus today and further as we move forward.

I read the brilliant plea from Doron Krakow, the Jewish Community Centers Association President, to the JCCA members, partners and funders seeking $1 billion in loans and grants as the Jewish Community Centers, revenue dependent at a time that the virus has eliminated the Centers' revenues. I hope JCCA is successful but our experience suggests that individual JCC Boards nationwide are built of wonderful leaders who have never been significant fund-raisers. In fact, after JFNA collapsed the Federation-National Agency Alliance two and 1/2 years ago, immediately costing the JCCs 100's of millions in allocations, the Movement was unable to recapture those dollars -- and those were better times. 

JCCs are but an example of agencies in dire need -- they all are.  Look at any National or local agency and understand that the safety net that we have helped to build is threatened with collapse. Is saving them beyond our capacity? Will/can community endowments -- created for those "rainy days" -- be allocated immediately becuase the "rainiest of days" are upon us? This is not 207-2008, this is so much worse.

Then, there is JFNA itself. After a decade of stasis and worse, JFNA, under Board Chair Mark Wilf and CEO Eric Fingerhut, appeared to this critic to be moving the Titanic off the iceberg, plugging the holes in the hull and moving albeit slowly toward some open water. Sure, the organization had completely abandoned its historic fund-raising responsibilities to  such an extent that Fingerhut was professionally leading the organization while also assuming the mantle of its FRD leadership with no depth of staff support. And, sure, the organization for at least a decade had abandoned its historic advocacy for funding overseas needs -- abandoned to the extent that last year the organization threw in the towel, telling the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee and ORT "you want advocacy, do it yourselves" and "restructuring" the United Israel Appeal out of its former existence relegating that organization to meeting the bare minima of IRS Revenue Rulings. 

Now, with federations facing unheard of financial challenges to just keep the doors open and the social safety net they have built over the dcades literally threatened with collapse, there should be, there must be a national conclave dedicated to the restructuring of JFNA reflecting the new reality that no longer can the federations afford a $30 million JFNA Dues Budget, let alone a $50 million Budget in the aggregate. There must be an immediate Continental planning meeting to restructure JFNA as the trade organization it has become over its two decades of existence --  with financial support at an appropriate and severely reduced level. Yes, I am talking about a truly Draconian Budget...dictated by the circumstances of today.

Where to begin? The long ignored staffing bloat in JFNA-Israel would be an excellent starting point for significant cuts, with staffing everywhere truly and finally reflecting the organization's priorities -- security, Washington and Federation support services. As it appears that this iteration of JFNA has neither the capacity nor the interest in financial resource development (even as surveys of the federations had always identified FRD as the highest priority need of the system -- probably one of the reasons for no more surveys of community "needs") which, as recently as the last JFNA Budget was where 50%...50%...of your Federation's Dues were being spent, a 50% Dues reduction would not appear to be an unreasonable expectation.

It is now time for a dramatic JFNA "right-sizing." Anything less would be unacceptable in today's horrible economic environment. JFNA's Executive Committee have determined that an emergency exists. Earlier this month that Executive Committee convened and authorized the "Officers Team...to take such actions as they deem appropriate to to operate, manage and oversee all of JFNA's operational activities..."

Get on with it.

Rwexler








Friday, March 27, 2020

COMEDY IN A TRAGEDY

American Airlines sent its fliers an alert during this time of pandemic and quarantine. We needed a good laugh.
Airplane
"For the safety of our customers and flight attendants, we're temporarily suspending food and beverage service on flights under 2,200 miles (typically less than 4½ hours). Limited beverages will be available upon request. On flights over 2,200 miles (typically longer than 4½ hours), we will continue to offer a streamlined food and beverage service."



If I read this correctly, no domestic flights from O'Hare will offer any meal or beverage service -- and, presently, there are no international flights -- as no domestic flight from Chicago exceeds 2,200 miles (OK, maybe there is a flight to Hawaii that would get you "streamlined food and. beverage service.")

Apparently, it is safe to provide "food and beverage service" on flights over 2,200 miles but it is unsafe on any flights of fewer miles. More germs on shorter flights?

And, what are "limited beverages?" And, inasmuch as "airline food" is often referenced as an oxymoron, should I really care?

Who writes this stuff? (Strong suspicion that the policy was developed in concert with Stephen Miller.) Who runs AA?

Rwexler



Monday, March 16, 2020

PRAYERS

Friends, many of you have asked me off-line why the recent silence on these pages. 

I want to ask you for your prayers for our son, Josh.

Josh is a 53 year-old father of three, an entrepreneur in New York City -- healthy and fit. An athlete -- a 4-year starter as Cornell's point guard and a starter on three United States Maccabiah Games basketball team. He continued to play actively until last week...and last week now seems so long, long ago. 

Two weeks ago, Josh tripped over a computer cord in hius office, fell and hit his head on the concrete floor. Josh began to experience some vision and memory issues to the point that on Monday of last week he was rushed to NYU-Langone where the doctors discovered some "minor blood leakage" on the brain. 

The next day, Josh reached me while I was traveling for JNF-USA and delivered the most devastating news possible: an MRI and further tests had disclosed that he has Glioblastoma -- the cancer that has taken the lives of among others, Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain. This horrific brain cancer was totally unrelated to that fall the week earlier.

As I write this, our son is being prepped for brain surgery at Columbia University Medical Center. He could not be in better hands but the present and the future are beyond daunting.

Our son has an incredible support system -- his siblings and their spouses, his children, ex-wife and his significant other, our extended family and Josh's great, life-long friends and, of course, his parents.

Please include Josh in your prayers.

With great appreciation,

Richard

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

CAVEATS AND CONFLICTING PREDICTIONS

The inestimable Chronicle of Philanthropy has recently offered some conflicting messages: (1) that non-profit fund-raising will increase this year by close to 5%; and (2) the real subject of today's Post -- that non-profits in the main fail to prepare for recession.

With the stock markets at best exhibiting schizophrenia -- huge losses followed by gains day-after-day -- and with the coronavirus, at this moment, metastasizing in America's cities one-by-one, it certainly appears as if the Chronicle prediction of an annualized 5% increase was, at best, premature. (The underlying study was clearly completed at a time †hat no one was predicting a global pandemic.)

On the darker horizon, the possibility of recession has reared its ugly head. Recession has always been the dreaded, not to be mentioned "R" word in †he non-profit communities wi†hin which I have worked. Many leaders over the decades have either warned me or chastised me for any, what they described as "negative talk," somehoe thinking that by ignoring even the possibility of an economic downturn, one would be forestalled. 

Thus, I was surprised that the Chronicle study found that even 33% of non-profits were engaged in "recession planning." And, when one couples the possibility of a recession with the reality that the 2019 Tax "Reform" limited the charitable deduction, one can see the possibility of a perfect albeit terrible storm.

Maybe those who were "old school" who most believed in denial of the realities of the potential impacts on annual campaigns of a negative economy -- so not even a mention of the possibility was to be permitted and, certainly, no planning for it. There was the apparent belief that using the word itself could exacerbate what might (and did and will) come. And, maybe, our leaders believed that using our political clout to oppose the limitation on the charitable deduction would be used against the Jewish community in some way (or that the forces demanding the significant reduction of the deduction were somehow irresistible).

So, once again we find ourselves citing Santayana's maxim and worrying that history will again repeat itself. 

Don't let it happen.

Rwexler4