Thursday, February 22, 2018

SUCKERS ALL

Friends, a Federation CEO whom I hold in high regard, recently included this in his Shabbat message to his community: "Change and the unknown are hard. There is definitely risk involved....Will our community...and our Federation have the strength to be able to look at the facts and determine changes that are necessary to move our community forward?" 

And, just so, a confident professional challenged his community to confront the need for change. Where, my friends, is the same challenge to the leadership of JFNA? When and from whom will that parallel challenge come?


Ponder the challenges as you read on:


1. The following Comment says so much; it is The Emperor's New Clothes 2018:

"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "CHICKENS ROOSTING -- AGAIN AND AGAIN": 


The education unit is a classic “short con” in which a shill pretends to conspire with the mark to cheat the dealer, while in fact conspiring with the dealer to cheat the mark. The mark has no chance whatsoever of winning, at any point in the game. In fact, anyone who is observed winning anything in the game can be presumed to be a shill.

Think of three-card monte. A confidence game in which the victim, or "mark", is tricked into betting a sum of money, on the assumption that they can find the "money card" or “Lady” among three face-down playing cards. It is the same as the shell game just cards instead of shells.

When you think about Education, you think about classrooms, youth groups, summer camps and the like. But don’t bet on it. The Con Artist in-chief Jerry knows where the lady card is. 

He moves the cards so you just can’t tell where the lady is.

Nobody is paying close enough attention.

Everything he has described in the so called Education Unit — replace the word Education with Campaign and voila - you lost your bet.

He didn’t “lie”in the con artist world of telling the truth. He only lied in our more common vernacular of telling the truth as practiced by most of us.

So, the shills play along, and money is added to the regular budget of JFNA.  

So JFNA can at least pay out more money and do nothing. 

A great way to cover inflationary costs and wasted money on consultants.

A con game instead of FRD.

A con artist instead of a CEO

And a short con instead of a National Organization.

Rabbi P. T. Barnum taught us two lessons:

Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung.

And 

A sucker is born every minute"

I have nothing to add. 

2. Some of you have asked offline why I haven't offered what you've callled my "two cents" in response to the ejewishphilanthropy piece "Board Chairs Behaving Badly." I commend the article to you -- http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/board-chairs-behaving-badly/ -- you can reach your own conclusions. 

But, I would love to ask the authors: have you ever identified Board Chairs who behave badly in multiple categories?


Rwexler


Monday, February 19, 2018

WHAT'S DOIN'?


From the DESK of Richard Wexler....

Back in the day -- the UJA "day" that is -- one of my great mentors, East Bay's remarkable philanthropist, Mort Friedkin, was asked by UJA's then National Campaign Chair Joel Tauber to Chair the first UJA Marketing & Communications Committee. No more than a month later, Mort called me. "I just quit." "What?" I asked. "I told Tauber if he is going to try to do my job when he should be doing his, he can do it without me."

I was reminded of this episode by a recent "From the Desk of..." missive from JFNA Vice-Chair Cindy Shapira. (And what's with JFNA, an inifinite number of Desks, a miniscule number of successes?) At its essence, Vice Chair Shapira was providing an in-depth domestic Fly-In Report on her visit to Houston with one of that community's preeminent leaders, Denis Braham, as Co-Chair. 5 unnamed Communities were also represented onthe Fly-In.

We all recall that Hurricane Harvey was the costliest tropical cyclone ever, causing approximately  $125 billion in damage, primarily from widespread flooding in the Houston metro area. The Houston Jewish community was severely impacted. The Hurricane hit Houston on August 17 and did not let up until September 3 -- the Hurricane ended 4 months before that first JFNA Braham-Shapira "Fly-In" while impacts continue to be felt.

The Houston Community is truly "Houston Strong" as it has proved in the face of weather disasters time and again; none as devastating as Harvey. There is still so much work to be done, JFNA is to be congratulated for offering a series of "Fly-Ins." (The unasked question, of course, is why these didn't begin months ago.) 

Best I can tell this is a 24 hour in and out; some important site visits; and a chance for a hands'-on experience in the community. And, for reasons totally unclear, the Shapira invite includes the important inducement that "[P]articipants are not being asked personally to make a gift." JFNA appears to wish to just put more nails in the coffin of FRD. Is that promise really going to attract more leaders to future "Fly-ins?" Is this the only way JFNA can recruit today? This is a terrible message from our Continental organization to our communities', 

Oh, yeah, thanks for reminding me: what's this got to do with my Mort Friedkin story? It's this: Gail Norry, a fantastic leader from Philadelphia who has held many important positions from UJA Young Leadership onward, had recently been appointed the JFNA Chair of Disaster Relief (or whatever title responding to emergencies by opening a Mailbox and deciding allocations may be). Gail is to leadership of Disaster Relief today as Mort Friedkin was to UJA Marketing back in the day. I'm not suggesting that Gail resign; I am suggesting that she might want to remind the Vice Chair that a great leader knows how to share the spotlight.

In all events, if you can afford it, a Houston Fly-In would be an important 24 hours spent.

Now, I don't know about you, but I'm heading to my office, where I have a real Desk (not upright, no treadmill) to do some work.

Rwexler


Friday, February 16, 2018

PRAYER DOES NOT HELP...AND OTHER MATTERS

1. I am certain that every one of you has heard the following joke:


"In Jerusalem, an American female journalist heard about an old Rabbi who visited the Kotel, the Western Wall, to pray twice a day every day for over five decades.
In an effort to check out the story, she goes to the holy site and there he is. She watches the old man at prayer and after about 45 minutes, when he turns to leave, she approaches him for an interview.
“I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN, sir, how long have you been coming to the Wailing Wall and praying?”“For about 50 years,” he informs her. “That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
“I pray for peace between the Jews and Arabs. I pray for all the hatred to stop and I pray for all of our children to grow up in safety and friendship.”
“And how do you feel, sir, after doing this for 50 years?”*
“Like I’m talking to a brick wall!”
As all of you know, that "Rabbi" is me. Writing this Blog is the closest thing to "talking to a brick wall." 

We all know that these Posts are read within the brick walls at 25 Broadway; that a succession of JFNA Board Chairs, constantly claiming they "never read it," read, if not obsess over, these Posts -- Kathy Manning admitted to the morning pain she experienced the mere anticipation of another of these caused her. We know that the more accusatory of Posts are downloaded by one -- usually some sycophant who then sends it on -- and then forwarded on with the verbal equivalent of a "tsk, tsk."

But I also know that to many I am the Blogger equivalent of the old man shouting "get off my lawn" at everyone even near my property line. "Like I'm talking to a brick wall."

2. The Knesset, clearly a legislative body with time on its hands, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, was busy "...putting off action on bill to prevent camel crashes." The legislation is designed "...to protect vehicles from cross intercity roads." The Israel "Transport Ministry spokesman said camels crashing into cars are not its responsibility." Suffice it to say that camels are dangerous, there have been deaths, especially at night. We will endeavor to keep you posted unless this is a matter for JFNA-Israel.

3. I want to strongly suggest that all of us read the brilliant piece in ejewishphilanthropy,  Board Chairs Behaving Badlyhttp://ejewishphilanthropy.com/board-chairs-behaving-badly/ The article offered both the characteristics of bad behavior and corrective measures. It should be required reading for all current Board Chairs, and those who aspire to succeed them. 

Rwexler

* I was reminded of this ancient joke by its retelling in various forms on the current season of Someone Feed Phil, Phil Rpsenthal's brilliant food anthology now streaming on Netflix. The joke is told and retold while Phil is traveling in Tel Aviv and north. Please ignore the treif.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

TOTALLY WITHOUT SELF-AWARENESS

Do you remember Johnny Carson's great character, Carnac the Magnificent? For those who don't, Carnac, in elaborate feathered tiara  and flowing robes, would appear to provide the questions and then the answers. Example: "What is Sis Boom Bah?" Answer: "What is the sound when a sheep explodes." Here is my own version: "What organization totally lacks self-awareness?" Answer:  "What is JFNA?" Indeed, what is JFNA?

The question arose this time from of all places, the unmatched waste that is FedWorld. (Some of you may recall that I was dropped from the mailing list and now must rely upon the generosity of friends to have a shot at reading the thing.) It was back on January 11, when the headline to this mindless thing was "How do great organizations know they're great?" Then, as the preface to the link to the article: "Why measuring your impact is key, and how you can up your grant making game."

I mean, WTF?? I know that there is no one at JFNA who read the article before it appeared in FedWorld; and I know that whoever is responsible for the fish wrap didn't appreciate the irony; and no one at 25 Broadway is into self-deprecation -- but this? If anything, the article, reprinted from the brilliant ejewishphilanthropy, should be read as if it were written as a direct criticism of JFNA itself. Read the article for yourselves at http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/how-great-organizations-know-theyre-great/#more-111358

I wrote one of the FOBs that this whole thing evidence "a basic lack of self-awareness." My FOB responded:
"This is not a basic lack of self awareness 

This is advanced and a Post doctorate level of lack of self awareness"
OK. So I was wrong again.

Rwexler

Saturday, February 10, 2018

CHANUKAH APPEALS -- A RETROSPECTIVE

                   "FIVE REASONS YOU SHOULD GIVE TO JTA THIS CHANUKAH"

 "'EIGHT DAYS OF GIVING' -- "DO YOUR PART FOR TIKKUN OLAM -- GIVE TO JCPA"

I won't offer a critique of these "direct mail" solicitations, if JTA or JCPA or the countless others pursuing us this past Chanukah think this an effective financial resource development approach -- b'hatzlacha. To those who responded to these appeals, great. Direct Mail FRD has proved to be an effective tool for low-end giving. Nothing wrong with it.

Yet, some of our organizations appear to believe that FRD begins and ends with the Internet and Direct Mail. And some believe that after the collapse of the National Agencies Alliance, Direct Mail will more than make up for the coming Draconian revenue shortfalls these agencies will experience. As one of you wrote, it is timely that the National Agencies compete in the federation marketplace like all others from JAFI/JDC to every other right down the food chain -- national agencies, Israeli NGOs, local agencies, synagogues. I find it to be a formula for fund raising chaos

Reading these Direct Mail solicitations I have been amazed that some of these Agencies seem to believe that a significant body of donors will just check a box, enter a Credit Card and send the donation on, never doing any due diligence, never demanding "truth in advertising." Agency after agency, many led by terrific professionals and lay leaders, suggesting achievements and areas of activity in which the organizations play no (or just a minor) role as if they are the leaders in the field seems to be the common approach. And, you know exactly whom you are.

There was also the mail solicitation from HIAS -- once a giant among the smalls. The organization at least/most offered candor in suggesting a basis for your gift would be providing assistance to HIAS (which has deleted the basis for its acronym -- "Hebrew" -- from its name) so it can continue to provide immigration services to a named Syrian refugee. Another organization asserted that a contribution to it be based in part on its leadership of a 29 person Mission to Israel (and, I assume this was a Mission of its own leadership). 

Look, I am all for raising funds for real needs in the most direct and efficient manner possible. Sometimes, Direct Mail is that vehicle -- although in responsible organizations which understand FRD, Direct Mail is a secondary or, even better, a tertiary fund raising vehicle. When Direct Mail is elevated to the status of the primary fund raising methodology, you often have a sponsoring organization that is orsoon will be in serious financial difficulty.

With the imminent collapse of the JFNA/Federations-National Agencies Alliance, created to support the national agencies now nearly done without having done so, the pressure on the National Agencies to raise funds directly from the federations will have grown exponentially.  beyond their means and, in most instances, beyond their capacity. The Boards of most of the National Agencies were not recruited as either major donors or fund raisers -- they were recruited because of their incredible passion for the cause of each of the agencies. These are terrific leaders; they would probably admit that, in most instances, they are not great fund raisers. 

Some of the National Agencies are well-situated by their purposes and actions to raise significant dollars -- JTA by reason of its reporting, the NCESJ in its dealing with the governments and Jewish communities in Russia and the countries of Eastern Europe come to mind. Others are umbrella organizations, servicing their members -- JCPA, serving community relations councils across the country in addition to its advocacy functions, and JCCA, serving local community centers (and now, stepping into the void left by JFNA and the Mandel Center, engaging in Executive searches) -- and facing  difficult fund raising challenges inasmuch as the local agencies they support are themselves struggling for sufficient budgeted funds. 

The National Agencies gained the support of CJF, then JFNA, through entities like the Large Cities Budgeting Conference and the National Alliance. Until JFNA decided to just abandon them. Now these Agencies -- those that the federations have charged with executing programs that benefit the federations themselves -- will soon be visiting your federation pleading for critical budgetary support. 

And, then, there are agencies like the Israel Action Network, created by JFNA in a partnership with JCPA with a mandate that its budget be paid solely by JFNA. Pleading poverty a few years ago, JFNA passed the buck (literally the buck); and, now, IAN leaders are raising, or trying to raise, significant dollars.

And all of this is happening at a time when the federation annual campaigns in the aggregate are themselves under great pressure, perhaps the greatest pressure since 2008. And, JFNA demonstrated its version of "leadership" and fund raising when it made off with almost $1.3 million of moneys allocated to the National Agencies -- their money -- for an Education Unit that, as many of you have pointed out, does not exist.

DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!!!

Rwexler


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

COMPLICIT MUCH?

To be "complicit" in terrible things -- turning a blind eye, keeping your head down, shrugging it off -- is starting to look almost as bad as doing them yourself. The New York Times Magazine, January 21, 2018

Today's topic, my friends, is "complicity," if you hadn't guessed from the title, the quote and this. Because everywhere one looks...complicity in the deconstruction of the federation system. As The New York Times Magazine piece continued: Complicity often calls for pretending not to know what you know, not to see what you see. 

I don't have an answer as to "why complicity?" But I do know that the result of this readily observable complicity is the aid and comfort it gives and has given to the JFNA CEO and Board Chair in what can only be characterized as the feckless, constant deconstruction of the Jewish Federations of North America. This cannot be allowed to continue.

And, who are the complicit? The JFNA Board Chair and Vice Chair, the Budget & Finance Chair, the JFNA Executive Committee, the JFNA Board members, and every Federation CEO (that's every one of them). Each and every one of them, of you, who sits in silence ignoring the observable reality of failure at every turn is complicit.

Is complicity permissible? Is it OK to turn the blind eye for some undefined "greater good" or for sh'lom bayit? As I have recalled on these pages, long before this Blog began I privately challenged a JFNA Officers' decision; I was castigated by a friend, challenged to either "go along or resign." That friend believed that one's complicity is required even demanded of all of us -- "go along or resign." My friend was one of the unwitting catalysts for what became this Blog. I didn't "go along or resign." I was, as were others, ignored and cast aside; yet, that demand is exactly the one to be ignored.

Complicity in the context of JFNA is now totally baked in: 

  • Complicit in the egregious amounts paid Silverman, Caspi and, now, Gurvis, for "services unrendered"
  • Complicit in the continuation of a bloated JFNA-Israel accomplishing nothing without even the hope of accomplishing something
  • Complicit in the theft of over $1,000,000 allegedly applied to an Education and Planning Unit which some of you characterized as "a con job"
  • Complicit in the collapse of core allocations to the system's overseas partners -- year-after-year of record lows in cash to JAFI/JDC/WorldORT
  • Complicit in hiding consultant contracts from scrutiny by Board members under a false claim of "confidentiality"
  • Complicit in the total lack of transparency at every level of JFNA activity, including but not limited to the reallocation of approved Budget line items to other activities without  governance approval; and
  • On and on and on
Yes...and on and on and on. Complicity everywhere one looks.

Rwexler




Sunday, February 4, 2018

PROVOCATIVE

Another set of critical insights from one of YOU:
"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "WE AND THEY HAVE REACHED ROCK BOTTOM": 

Your last few weeks of comments have been quite trenchant, disturbing and distressing.


How can any Federation, especially a big city Federation, defend the tens of millions of dollars wasted by this organization?


Heck, they can't even provide financials within six months.

http://cdn.fedweb.org/fed-42/2432/Annual%2520Report%2520JFNA%25206-30-16%2520FS.pdf

If they were a public company, they would be sued by the SEC and delisted from trading!


Don't the Large Federations have an obligation to fix it now or forever renounce any claim to being a true and faithful fiduciary of their donor's funds?


Why should I give another dime to my Federation unless they stand at the front of the line to demand accountability and change?


Otherwise, another 5% of my donor funds are completely wasted on top of whatever admin and fundraising costs my donations cover.


And shouldn't New York - with $8 million wasted on JFNA annually - lead the way? They can no longer keep their head in the sand or look in another direction."
If any of you, chevre, believe that New York UJA "...can no longer keep their head in the sand or look in another direction" -- just watch them do exactly that.

Rwexler

Thursday, February 1, 2018

A CONTINENTAL ORGANIZATION WITH NO MORAL CENTER

I believe that you, my readers, whether you "like" this Blog or "hate" the very idea of it, you are, by a super-majority, an exceptional group of concerned Jewish citizens. Not infrequently, you challenge the very premises underlying the positions I've taken, causing me to seriously reexamine them. For instance:
"The strongest Federations make decisions for the good of their communities and the Jewish people based on a host of local and communal factors. The world has changed and local donors and Federations don't believe they exist to feed the international partners -- that change would have happened with or without a merger. 
Measuring JFNA based on international funding as a primary criteria is silly in 2017/18. Similarly, Federations don't think they should be funding a handful of national orgs because they used to get funding -- if they're adding true value to a Federation's mission they can get local money just like the now hundreds of other orgs operating across the country. 
Richard, we all love you, but you and your readers are too smart to keep pretending that the world hasn't changed with massive disruption in every sector, including Jewish life. All of this said, there is of course room for a real critique of the Silverman regime based on its weakness in meeting today's Federation challenges. Perhaps in the New Year you can focus there?" 
I hate it when I may be wrong even as I am more than willing to have my assumptions challenged. I have admitted to being the dinosaur I have been accused of being; and I readily admit that if, as I have articulated on these pages as t others, "you are what the scoreboard says you are," our Anonymous friend's critique is telling.

I really don't "(measure) JFNA based on international funding as a primary criteria" -- however, I do "measure JFNA" by the organization's understanding that it has an absolute and undeniable moral obligation to passionately advocate for its partners -- for the overseas beneficiaries -- as part and parcel of its institutional n'shama. And it does not do so. To JFNA's leaders, lip service to its moral responsibilities is all that can be hoped for -- and even lip service is in short supply from this group. More's the pity.

At least annually I publicly admit on these pages that I do still believe that JFNA and the federations can recapture their critical, central planning role by dint of hard (extremely hard) work built upon a recognition that certain communal values are sacrosanct -- among them: the centrality of the annual campaign, the historic partnership of American and Israeli Jewry, the exercise of collective responsibility, building the Jewish professional corps, Jewish education, care for our elderly and our dedication to those of our People most in need. In each of these areas, JFNA has fallen down on the job or done absolutely.nothing. And the "see no evil, speak no evil, hear no evil" leadership asks nothing of the organization they arguably govern but don't (unless one believes that acting as a rubber stamp is governing).

I look forward to learning from you, chevre, what you believe are "today's federation challenges" and what you perceive to be just how JFNA is meeting them.

Rwexler






Monday, January 29, 2018

CREDIT WHERE CREDIT IS OVERDUE

There are some incredibly great things going on in organized Jewish life that deserve mention:

1. Alan Hoffman, the Jewish Agency CEO/Director General, whom I had known for decades   as a charismatic, even brilliant professional and one who always held his cards very, very close to his chest, gave an amazing and candid speech to the Israel Democracy Institute as reported in Haaretz -- Young American Jews Increasingly Turning Away From Israel. Read the entire Judy Maltz by-lined article at https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.5751616

Certainly many will dispute the findings of a recent Survey cited by Hoffman that disclosed that disclosed that support for Israel among Jewish college students had fallen by an horrific 32% between 2010 and 2016. In addition, Alan disclosed that in a presentation to New York UJA he was bombarded with questions about religious pluralism in Israel -- "how could Israel do this to us?"

While Hoffman, who may (or may not, things change ya' know) be on the cusp of retirement, may have been teeing up a JAFI Jewish Unity Plan -- but even so, Alan's candor was as refreshing as it was revelatory.

Kal ha'kavod.

2. And a kal ha'kavod to JFNA. The umbrella organization convenes its Board Retreat this morning in Atlanta and it actually has a very important Agenda -- filled with important "stuff." To me, the most critical, assuming it leads to change, is a Discussion document Rethinking the GA. Sure, it's long, long overdue; but it's here...now.

Finally there is disclosure that there is a "$2.5 million minimum price tag" annually for the GA and that there is what the authors very gently characterize as "[S]talled participation and a lack of consistent recruitment" laying the fault at the feet of the Federations.

Significant questions are raised, but the authors' "simple thesis is:"
"The GA must be a platform for what the system needs and for what it will use to achieve its business objectives. Otherwise, producing the GA is tantamount to putting on a play; it is entertaining but has no/limited functional application."
 Alternatives are offered but the critical thing is that there may be (one never knows) serious discussion among JFNA's/Federations' leaders of the reality that the current GA (as reflected over recent years) is comatose and alternatives need to be explored.  I am, as you reguar readers know, more than cynical about JFNA's "table discussions;" more filler than substance, promised summaries never appearing let alone acted upon; farce. May this discussion, if that's what is going to happen, make a difference.

There is more to observe about JFNA of course and those observations will be upcoming.

So consider the good news.

Rwexler

Friday, January 26, 2018

HEY!!!! YOU!!!!

HEY, you, JFNA Board Member -- yeah, you, I'm talking to you...

Have you ever heard Edmund Burke paraphrased: "All that is necessary for the triumph of mediocrity is for good people to do nothing." And, that's exactly what you have been doing: NOTHING...nothing at all

Yeah, I'm talking to you.

In writing about the ultimate removal/forced retirement of Peter Martins as the CEO, the professional leader, of the New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet, in the New York Times, the past Chair of the School, looked back on the futility of a do-nothing Board:
"Because they're volunteers, they often yield to management and particularly to charismatic...leaders. When presented with evidence to the contrary they...look the other way."
Yeah, I'm talking to you. 

I'm sorry, but what I have observed over the past decade is "Board as sheep;" yes, at JFNA, sorry to say, volunteer sycophancy has become JFNA's stock in trade. While systemic collapse is now accelerating at quark-like speed, JFNA leadership -- from its Board Chair through its Executive Office (where the combined compensation of the CEO and Executive Vice-President, according to the most recent JFNA 990, remarkably, now exceeds $1 million per year) right through its Board -- sticks its collective head in the sand allowing it the fiction that all is just peachy.

Yeah, I'm talking to you.

By inaction, inattention...the federations and the JFNA Officers and Board are passively engaged in the deconstruction of JFNA...a deconstruction that is already spreading to the federations themselves (or, perhaps, that deconstruction has already spread upward from the federations to JFNA). The JFNA hegemonic class is clearly made up of the disinterested, the lazy, the "let the other guy do it, I'm too busy" class who as a group clearly fail to understand the basic meaning of fiduciary duty and, thus, don't understand that they are in breach of that responsibility to each other and to the institution they have been elected/selected to lead, to govern. These leaders think an important decision is reclassifying Board members so that only voting member may participate on an ad hoc basis.

And, at the head of the organization you have two avatars of the "do-nothings" -- a Board Chair who announced before taking office that he would delegate everything to the CEO and "just get out of his way" and a CEO who has been and is the apotheosis of failure. In another age, but within the JFNA era, communal leaders demanded that the Board and Executive Chairs (then there were both, no more) take action under similar circumstances and they did. Today? Not a chance.

Yeah, I'm talking to you.

In any progressive organization you see leaders building on success -- from small successes to great ones; at JFNA when there has been success, each one has been nothing more than a one-off (JFNA-Washington, disaster relief) succeeded not by greater success but by folly and failure.

Yeah, I'm talking to you.

But I don't think you're listening.

Rwexler