Wednesday, April 26, 2017

MEASURING IMPORTANCE

I have been pondering the question of how we can measure the importance of our communities' Continental instrument, The question arose in my fertile mind in response the frequent "highlights" on the JFNA homepage, "headlines" in the captive FedWorld rag, and in the Twitterworld of meetings our professional and lay leaders have attended. Like this one:
"Leaders of national Jewish organizations, including JFNA and SCN, met with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to discuss federal law enforcement’s support for Jewish institutions."
JFNA was there. It appeared that the meeting was very brief inasmuch it was to discuss the bomb threats against Jewish institutions -- threats that had ceased when the FBI secured the arrest in Israel of the alleged Jewish Israeli teenage culprit over one week before this meeting. Maybe the meeting was to allow our organizational leadership to thank the Attorney General...or maybe not. 

This was not the first meeting on this subject. I recall a meeting weeks earlier with FBI Director Comey that provided CEO Jerry with a photo op at one end (the one closest to the camera) of a conference table. It was a meeting designed to thank the Director for the FBI's hard work. Jerry just had to be there.

Maybe, at a time like this -- well, like the last 7+ years, actually -- when the organization is a mess, providing neither direction nor service to its federation owners, at least nothing approaching $30 million, not near $30 million, wouldn't you think that our leaders would be focused on assuring the federations that JFNA can respond to our needs in substantive ways. And, yet, without any sense of embarrassment, they substitute "public appearances," drafting papers "From the Desk of...," and, of course photo ops for that substance.

Oh, and Jerry has time to serve on the Board of LeadingEdge's CEO OnBoarding thing even as and after the JFNA he allegedly leads totally abandon...CEO on-boarding; he has time to fly to D.C. just to be marked "present" at meetings that could just as well, surely better, be attended by the lead pro at JFNA-Washington, or, as luck would have it, the lay Chair of JFNA-Washington's legislative effort, a highly respected D.C. lawyer. The waste is matched only by the lack of judgment. 

Apparently JFNA's leaders measure the importance of the organization not by its work, not by its service to the federations but by how times JFNA is mentioned in JTA or The Forward or the Jerusalem Post, et al. Perhaps this is why Board Chair Sandler issued his own statement on pending federal legislation in The Hill (JFNA doesn't seem to care how obscure or niche the publication is -- psssst, Richard, if you want, this Blog, certainly the  most obscure of publications, would be pleased to publish anything you write at any time [and you won't have to identify your position at JFNA, everyone who reads this knows exactly whom you are].) 

For Richard Sandler and Jerry Silverman, when it comes to Statements, do as we say not as we do. But what they do is the best evidence that the organization hasn't a clue what it (or they) should be/could be doing.

Wexler


Sunday, April 23, 2017

DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THE STEALTH SPECIAL "CAMPAIGN?"

"A supplemental $18M campaign for ENP (not envisioned when the budget was written) is underway. There is a Chair, an initial plan is being drafted, and almost $600,000 has been committed to date." (JFNA Mid-Year Report on Implementation of Budget Objectives)

I don't know how or where it happened but sometime last fall, JFNA began an "effort" to raise $18,000,000 to aid the Ethiopian National Project. Be assured, I am a strong believer in the ENP; I served on its Board (curiously, the ENP website indicates that I am still on its Board) at Braishit; but $18 million dollars? For what? Where was this "campaign" hatched? How did it become an effort of JFNA? How was it processed (the quote above indicates that at no point was it"planned") and how is it being implemented? There must be someone at 25 Broadway or in Santa Monica who knows the answers -- and they're not talking.

I think I've tracked down the genesis (I know) of this "campaign:" a letter dated May 1, 2016 from Naftali Bennett in his capacity as Education Minister of the Government of Israel, to Bobby Goldberg in his role as Chair of the ENP.  Here's that letter: http://www.enp.org.il/pics/database/more_data/30_file.pdf  You will notice that among the copy recipients were: Richard Sandler, and the then JFNA Vice Chair, Susie Stern, David Brown, Chair, JFNA-Israel, and Jerry Silverman. I assume that the ENP and the Minister Bennett just assumed that JFNA would raise the $21,000,000( +/-) matching funds* requested. After all, the purposes to be served, the population to be served desperately need the services those dollars would provide. And, somehow, like some form of sleight of hand, that request morphed into a JFNA "Special Campaign" as if this FRD had been approved by the federations. 

On a hunch, I asked JFNA for a copy of any formal action taken by a governance body that authorized this "campaign." And, sure enough, the Executive Committee, responded to a Memo last October 6. In pertinent part, that Memo provided:
"The JFNA Executive Committee is being asked to authorize the launch of a supplemental funding campaign in support of the Ethiopian National Project’s SPACE (School Performance and Community Empowerment) campaign. The Ethiopian National Project’s (ENP) goal is to raise $18M to support the SPACE program over a four-year period. JFNA’s support will be limited, focused and largely targeted at major donors identified by Federations as well as those who have previously demonstrated a particular interest in Ethiopian Jewry.

This will be a best faith effort. No Federation will be responsible for any share or specific amount, but all are asked to undertake a best-faith effort to raise or allocate what they can." (emphasis added)
In other words, this would be not only a stealth effort but would be one with a goal -- $18 million over four years. A goal non-binding on anybody. The JFNA Board was never asked to ratify this effort but it was approved by the Executive Committee at a time that JFNA had no FRD staff; it was approved without any plan;  and, it was approved at a time when federations had no appetite for another designated campaign, certainly not one like this -- an effort that the federations never approved through the Board or in any other way. 

And there is a Chair for this "Special Campaign" -- but your guess is as good as mine whom it is. 

Some history of FRD for the ENP might have been in order: 

In the third year of what is now JFNA, the then Overseas Needs and Assessment Department Committee (then "ONAD" of blessed memory), resolved that federations consider maintaining their overseas allocations at the prior year's level and provide an additional 5% of that allocation to the Ethiopian National Project, which was operating on fumes, its budget from the strapped Jewish Agency inadequate to meet the needs of the Israeli-Ethiopian community. In response, two federations -- Chicago and Houston -- stepped forward, not one other community met the call -- one that had been vetted through JFNA's governance. All the federations, but those two, were sympathetic to the plight of the Ethiopian community in Israel, none was prepared to increase allocations to meet the identified needs the ENP served. (I believe that over the intervening 15 years individual federations have directly and quietly funded the ENP with some designated dollars.)

What's the point? What can be gleaned from the history of the fund raising community's relationship to the ENP: simply that there is very little appetite for a collective effort to raise any significant dollars to aid the Israeli-Ethiopian community let alone an embrace of an $18 million dollar special campaign. But at JFNA there is no longer any appreciation of history; its leaders can't be said to have ignored Santayana's admonition because they have neither any interest in that history nor, apparently, in governance or process. 

A succession of JFNA leaders, lay and pro, right through today's, have totally destroyed the institutional memory that is truly so vital to continuity. And this has been a set of deliberate acts dating from the earliest days of the organization -- in the first weeks Joel Tauber, then the Chair of the Executive, removed his "best friend," Marvin Lender, from his role in leadership of the entity's Israel matters right through the day that Danny Allen was pushed out of his professional leadership of UIA. Thus, there is no one really left to remind JFNA's leaders (other than the silent few CEOs who appear quite satisfied with the way things are) of the lessons offered by our history with regard to process and governance...and everything else...and that's just the way they like it.

Forgive the apparent digression but this discussion's relevance is evident in the emergence of this $18 million "special campaign" made up out of whole cloth without any apparent internal planning, without engaging federation leadership and, best I can tell, without any real hope of success. 

And it is the emergence of  this "campaign" literally out of the blue that should have all of us concerned. As I've concluded and written, one of the catalysts for the federations', and, in the main, the Large City Executives, demand (for that's what it was) for merger of UJA/CJF/UIA was to assure that never again would a group of laypersons -- viz, UJA -- be able to mount a campaign like Operation Exodus ever again; that would forevermore be the sole prerogative of the federations -- viz, the LCE. No more, in their vision of history, would there be a top-down dictation of any campaign. So, the mystery of this ENP "campaign" -- one which went through the following steps: (1) on May 1, 2016, the Israeli Minister of Education requests that the federations match a GOI grant to the Ethiopian National Project; (2) nothing appears to happen for 5 months -- no processing through the JFNA-Israel Department Committee, no lay process whatsoever; (3) the JFNA Executive Committee approves an $18M over 4 year stealth "Campaign" -- uh, make that a "non-campaign." 

I can only guess that at some meeting, ENP leaders pled with the JFNA Board Chair, with Silverman and some select group, for assistance to the Project as Minister Bennett had requested. Somehow, seized with fervor, they acquiesced without a plan, in consultation with their Executive Committee and went forward in this totally opaque manner. Hopefully there has been a major lead gift from the Board Chair. (I recall, back in the day...way back...another "Campaign" was kicked off after Board action with a gift from the then Board Chair who was challenged by the then CEO to dramatically increase it -- which he did; it's undeniable that Silverman would not know how to do such a thing, and wouldn't even if he knew); perhaps that gift will inspire others when we all find out how much it was (assuming there was/is one); maybe aspirants to succeed Sandler will step forward as has been the case in other JFNA "projects;" maybe federations, including my own, will be asked to once again step up. 

Please reread the quote with which I began this Post. Friends, this is an $18,000,000 non-campaign. It is not a collective effort; in fact, it is a campaign in name only antithetical to the very definition of "collective." Sadly, because the needs are great, it is doomed to failure.

And, most likely, this will become just another JFNA "ask" that will be added to the pile...and forgotten like so many others. The ENP will be left with hopes dashed; the Government of Israel abashed. At this point, my friends, JFNA and its leaders are truly beyond embarrassment.

Beyond embarrassment. Haven't we had enough?

Rwexler

* Somehow a $21,000,000 ask became $18,000,000. I can only guess that either (1) the GOI request was reduced; or (2) the arms of JAFI and JDC were twisted to provide the "difference" or (3) JFNA forgot that is was to be $3,000,000 more.



Thursday, April 20, 2017

SOMETIMES YOU JUST WANT TO CRY

1. This seems as good or bad a place to start as any:
"There is a midrash that, when standing at Sinai to receive the Torah, each person received their own personal revelation but responded in one voice, saying, “Na’aseh v’nishma” — “We will do and we will hear.” It is in that exquisite moment that we became one People. Each of us is an individual, but we — and our fate — are inextricably linked, and we are each responsible for one another."
After weeks -- after 148 JCCs were evacuated, synagogues defaced, cemeteries vandalized -- JFNA's leaders, Sandler and Silverman, finally pulled their heads out of...the sand and began their statement on these crimes with the beautiful words above. And, shortly thereafter, the perpetrator was arrested. Connection? Probably not.

In this Statement, distributed to us on March 14, Standing Again As One, Richard and Jerry recited what everyone else was doing -- the Secure Community Network, the federations themselves, the ADL and Hillel and G-d knows who else -- while telling us that...JFNA is busy working with all of them and JFNA is busy co-convening meetings with JCCA and others. That's what we do....that's all we do.

Oh, wait, that's not all...We underfund the SCN which made its incredible work during this crisis all the more remarkable. We also make sure that we Jerry is available for photo ops at all photo op-worthy (that means "any") meetings. And, this:
"Within the next few weeks we will be enabling every Federation to implement a new, powerful and cost-efficient emergency notification system to link them with the leadership of local Jewish institutions and organizations to enable immediate response to crisis situations."
Sounds like a swell idea. Hey, Richard/Jerry, it's now been 5 weeks since this dramatic promise. What's up? Remember Na'aseh v'nishma.

2. And...you remember when Richard/Jerry admonished anyone within listening/reading distance that organizational Statements are bad...very bad...very,very bad. They are distractions; they offend people and serve to divide, not unite us. Yada, yada, yada. And they said it and wrote it often.

Sooooo, apparently what this meant was, you shut up while we talk. Because lo and behold, Sandler has been quite busy making statements in his capacity as JFNA Board Chair -- once he endorsed Trump's presidential potential and David Friedman's nomination as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, then he advised us, again, to make no statements. He defended those distractions as, I guess, just exercising his freedom of speech (although it's almost a certainty that he would not have been interviewed in his capacity as General Counsel and EVP of the Milken Family Foundation). 

Then, unable to stop himself, Richard had an Op-Ed published in The Hill (way to go JFNA-Washington!!), after JFNA joined in a Statement, yes, a Statement -- Jewish Groups Join Letter Urging Congress to Resist Trump Bid To Allow Church Politicking as JTA described it. Richard's Op-Ed was a well-written indictment of the Trump-led effort -- We Need to Pass the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act to Fight Hate and Bigotry. Here is what Richard wrote in pertinent part:
"That is why the Jewish Federation of North America stands with the Anti-Defamation League, American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Brandeis Center for Human Rights, and many other groups in support of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act."
Yes, Richard decided that JFNA had decided to make a "stand." Unfortunately, JFNA had not "decided" a thing.

I was pretty certain that JFNA was not going to be making/taking any "stands." I'm pretty damn certain that the JFNA Board hasn't taken any "stand;" wasn't even asked to do so. But, I get it: JFNA shall not issue Statements BUT its Board Chair is free to do so in the name of the organization whenever he damn well pleases,

Perhaps, you all could explain this to me...

Rwexler




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

A BRIEF DIVERSION

Now for something completely different:


"Fred feared his wife Rhonda wasn't hearing as well as she used to and he thought she might need a hearing aid.
Not quite sure how to approach her, he called the family Doctor to discuss the problem.
The Doctor told him there is a simple informal test the husband could perform to give the Doctor a better idea about her hearing loss.
'Here's what you do,' said the Doctor, 'stand about 40 feet away from her, and in a normal conversational speaking tone see if she hears you. If not, go to 30 feet, then 20 feet, and so on until you get a response.'
That evening, the wife is in the kitchen cooking dinner, and he was In the den. He says to himself, 'I'm about 40 feet away, let's see what happens.' Then in a normal tone he asks, 'Honey, what's for dinner?'
No response.
So the husband moves closer to the kitchen, about 30 feet from his wife and repeats, 'Rhonda, what's for dinner?' Still no response.
Next he moves into the dining room where he is about 20 feet from his Wife and asks, 'Honey, what's for dinner?'
A gain he gets no response.
So, he walks up to the kitchen door, about 10 feet away. 'Honey, what's for dinner?'
Again there is no response..
So he walks right up behind her. 'Rhonda, what's for dinner?'
'Damn it, Fred, for the FIFTH time, CHICKEN!'"

Now, for any of you, dear readers, of my generation, this is a true parable for our daily lives;  for me, it is both present and recent past; for others of you, younger, more spry, this is your future.

Sorry.

Rwexler

Monday, April 17, 2017

S.N.A.F.U.

I know that there are many who believe that I am antediluvian, hopelessly so; and they are probably right...or close to it. But it is that sense of history, the memory of what was and the vision of what could be that fills me every day with a growing profound sadness about what is. Wish that I could treat the entirety of the past decade of JFNA as some sort of joke that we could just laugh off and move on, but, as you readers know, the decade past hasn't been funny at all, not one bit.

JFNA has become a shambolic mess, pure and simple. While much of that mess can be laid at Silverman's feet, equally guilty, if not more so, are Jerry's enablers, from the Search "process" that recommended his hiring, to a succession of Board Chairs who have demanded nothing more from the CEO than that he serve as the obsequious hand puppet cheering on moronic, wasteful schemes (yes, the Global Planning Table) or that he just get out of their way. These are our elected lay leaders; they are not the utter poltroons that they have chosen to be in their leadership roles. But in the iterations of lay leadership over there past decade, maundering has been the substitute for substance, and mediocrity or worse has been presented as excellence.

Friends, there was a through line, a common passion, that ran directly from the formation of the United Jewish Appeal in 1939 right up to the merger that was to become JFNA 60 years later and, then, that through line came up against the wall of leadership ignominy beginning with Kanfer and and ending with Sandler and Silverman. (This is not to say that any of these lay leaders lack or lacked passion; it's just that they neither knew nor know how to channel it -- just another function of a lack of a strong professional partner with a knowledge of the federation system these lay leaders were elected to lead.) We reached the inflection point for JFNA 7+ years ago when a rapacious Board Chair ignored all of the negative implications for the system and for the organization she was elected to Chair when she demanded of her stacked Search Committee that one with no knowledge of our system and without the ability to understand or motivate it as our CEO with the mantra of "thinking outside the box." 

Maybe it was Colin Powell who first articulated the "Pottery Barn Rule" -- "If you break it, you own it." It seems that a succession of JFNA leaders felt/feel that inasmuch as they inherited a broken thing, how can they own it? I mean, really, just to cite one example: when Michael Siegal and his team concluded that Silverman could not manage the organization and brought in Mark Gurvis from within the federation system to do so, Jerry was given a raise apparently for agreeing to perform half of the job description for which he was hired. Then, to succeed Siegal, came Richard Sandler who, before he took office, essentially announced that he believed that the lay leaders' seminal responsibility is to take office and "get out of the professionals' way" -- apparently without regard to the mediocrity and worse that this philosophy had already perpetuated at 25 Broadway.

And, so, the failures of JFNA continue as if ineluctable; the organization has been allowed to become a parlous mess. Jerry has proved to be uneducable; neither a student capable of learning nor an autodidact. At one point three years ago, Jerry pounded his chest in front of a group of Federation CEOs and announced that he was throwing off the chains under which he was constrained (presumably the need to get approval for anything of substance from the Large City Executives) and, from that point on, it would be, in his words, "Jerry being Jerry." And, from that point forward...nothing. And, "nothing" truly appears to be "Jerry being Jerry."

If, as in almost all of our communities, JFNA's chief professional officer had been given a true performance-based evaluation, Silverman would have been long gone -- gone after the three-time failure of TribeFests or after his unquestioning support of the farcical multi-million dollar flop that was the GPT, or...Instead we have a "good old boy" evaluation -- and the total lack of results applauded. (I am reminded of Michael Siegal's "explanation" of the preposterous extension of Jerry's contract after 4+ years of failure -- with not one accomplishment cited because there was not one that was citable.)

In so many places we live in a New World -- one of "alternate facts." At JFNA today and for the past, at least, 7+ years, we live in an "alternate universe" -- one where failure is described as success (e.g., GA after GA), where nothing is what truly is, where everything is what it isn't. These JFNA lay leaders, the current team of lay leaders and their predecessors, come into office and quickly occupy that fake universe where the skies are azure blue and JFNA is doing "just great."

And I have come to conclude, in an organization where the mantra should be S.N.A.F.U.
we will see unicorns and pigs fly before there are any changes. JFNA will just continue down its path to irrelevancy...at a cost of $30 million per year.

Wexlers



Friday, April 14, 2017

SEATS AT THE TABLE

(This Post was earlier published on ejewishphilanthropy [13 February 2017])

A few weeks ago, the wonderful ejewishphilanthropy (25 January) published an impassioned plea from two campus advocates -- No Representation Without Conversation.
The subject matter and the demands were clearly thought through and, inasmuch as I like so many of you have thought a lot about the Next Generation of Jewish leaders, I wanted to reprint the plea and then discuss it: 
"To the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, 
In Deuteronomy 31, God instructs Moses to pass on the mantle of leadership. Moses turns to Joshua, puts his hands upon him and, in a moment of Divine Presence, Joshua becomes the leader of the Jewish people. For thousands of years, the Jewish people have passed on Torah and communal leadership, l’dor v’dor, from one generation to the next.
 As two people deeply involved in and passionate about Jewish communal life, we fear that the number of modern day Joshuas, who happen to be our peers, is dwindling. This past week, we saw what intergenerational success looks like as an estimated four million people filled streets around the world to demand change, justice, and equality. These marches proved that young people are going into 2017 with passion and conviction, ready to make a difference in the world locally, nationally, and globally. Nonprofits, political parties, NGOs, and even corporations are swinging the door wide open to younger leadership, professional and lay, as a way to reposition and adapt to a quickly changing world. Those organizations that aren’t doing so are actively shortchanging their long term viability and relevance, and simultaneously alienating a significant portion of their support base who want to be meaningfully engaged.
In a TED Talk about the changing nature of democracy, Pia Mancini made clear that generations past decried “no taxation without representation,” whereas this generation operates on “no representation without conversation.” The difference is stark as young leaders everywhere are taking their rightful seat at the table, and actively participating in “the conversation.”
 We wonder, are the Jewish organizations, that in many ways define the tapestry of the American Jewish world, opening seats at their decision-making tables to new voices? We don’t think so. And, if we don’t reverse this trend soon, we jeopardize the future of our Jewish organizations, and the Jewish people as a whole. We worry that too many of our Moses’ are without Joshuas in their midst.
Just over 2% of all nonprofit trustees are under the age of 30. More concerning, a majority of these young trustees are the sole member of their board in their age bracket. Young people represent over 20% of the population, and need to likewise represent a meaningful percentage of board members actively engaged in supporting our Jewish organizations. As the only two young people who serve on a very large board, we fear that assumptions are made that we alone can represent an entire generation. We can’t. And we need a more diverse group of peers at the table to represent the rich diversity our organizations aim to engage.
2017 needs to be a year of change. The era of the “token young person” is over.
 Young leaders on every level have valuable experience, expertise, and insight to share with organizations and causes for which they care. The window of opportunity is shrinking quickly, as a time will come when those passionate young people will turn elsewhere to lend their time and voices.
We ask the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations to make it a priority of top concern to require that by 2020, each constituent organization have a significant number of young adults serving in meaningful leadership roles on their boards.
 If these 52 organizations lead by example, we are confident that it will have a ripple effect throughout the Jewish world. The time to be bold is now – we owe it to the Jewish world future generations will inherit.
If not now, when?
 Most Sincerely,
Debbie Rabinovich
Andrew Keene"

The suggestion that Jewish organizations "...open seats at their decision-making tables" as articulated by these two thoughtful and demanding young people is one worthy of sincere examination and reflection. Young leaders deserve to be taken seriously; I have a few in my own family. I have some suggestions in response:

  • First, understand the organizations on whose Boards you wish to serve. I'd start with the Conference of Presidents to which the writers' demands are addressed and which, as you readers know and understand, cannot "require" its members to do anything at all. And doesn't. The fact that the letter is addressed to the Conference at all indicates that more homework might be, is in fact, needed;
  • Second, and most important to me, is the demand for what I would characterize as "immediate gratification;" the immediate election of young men and women to seats on the organizational decision-making boards. Where I come from Board seats are earned not "given" -- earned by service on Agency boards, Federation committees, in the campaigns. One grows into Board membership; one is not bestowed with that membership because of age. In fact, in my community as well, I suspect, yours, we do have a number of young leaders on our Agency and Federation Boards who have served on Committees, led Agency and Federation efforts and now serve on the Boards.
Nowhere in the ejp-published letter do I read of these young leaders' interest in "working their way up" to Board service; to learning the complexity of our organizations before leading them. What I read is the desire/demand to be immediately parachuted into leadership. I have a suggestion for them...

At the end of 1999, my brilliant friend and colleague, the indefatigable Jeffrey Solomon and I published an article in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service -- Setting Standards for Volunteer Leadership and the Profession. www.bjpa.org/publications/downloadFile.cfm?FileID=2188  I'm proud of the award the article won in 2000 but more so that it became part of the curriculum in some schools of Jewish communal service. I understand the desire of all those young, old and in between to want to be immediately "in the rooms where it happens."

I also believe that those who want it the most will "earn it" and earn it quickly if they first learn, and then participate, and, then, determine if they still "want it."

Rwexler



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

WRONG FOCUS??

In a recent article in ejewishphilanthropy Scott Shay focused on Jewish Foundation and endowment investment policies in The Boycott of Israel No One Is Talking Abouthttp://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-boycott-of-israel-nobody-is-talking-about/?utm_source=Mar+9,+st all the values_campaign=Thurs+March+9&utm_medium=email  Shay, a leader in the investment community who has made a personal investment in Israel and in American Jewish continuity, decries what he observes as a failure of those Jewish entities to invest according to "Jewish values" in their focus strictly on maximizing the return on investment of donors' contributions. While I commend Scott on his incredible commitment, I think that he has looked through the wrong end of the telescope.

I understand that Jewish foundations and endowment funds have a responsibility to their donors to maximize investment returns. I have heard the pride, and read the sense of accomplishment, around the communal system as growth percentages are maximized annually. Yet, for many years, I have been concerned and disappointed with how those earnings are distributed; how funds are allocated. 

I recall a visit to a large community with one of the most successful (from a growth standpoint) Endowment Funds in North America. I met with its professional leader and, after studying the distributions, 77% of which went to beautiful secular institutions and programs, I suggested, more than half seriously, "why don't you just take 'Jewish' out of the Endowment name -- just rename it  'The________________
Jewish Community Foundation' to reflect the reality."  The response was direct: "It's probable that the Jewish community wouldn't receive even the 23% that it does were in not for this 'Jewish Community Foundation' being the fund managers."

We had an excellent discussion. This really great, pioneering professional described the "obligation" that Foundation leaders feel to allocate as their donors direct -- through Donor Advised Funds and even their Support Foundations -- and I inquired as to whether there was any sense of obligation to try to move the allocations to meet communal needs reflective of those "Jewish values" which Scott Shay addressed. At that time, a decade ago, the answer was no -- "we are bringing endowments into a 'Jewish' endowment fund that might otherwise be going elsewhere and just in doing so we make opportunities available to the donors to invest their funds in communal programs." 

I asked some wonderful leaders of major communal Endowments/Foundations how they reacted to Shay's provocatively-titled Op-Ed. Most opined that Jewish values are expressed by their donors' placing their dollars in a Jewish instrumentality but that those donors remain focused of the ROI as well as on determining the distribution of the income. One leader of a major Jewish community foundation and one who has thought deeply about Jewish values expressed through the endowment effort, offered:
"We are still trying to reason this through. We have increased our holdings in Israel bonds to seven figures. A few of our investment guys are trying to develop a Jewish social responsibility fund base on faith principles. We shall see." 
He concluded that Shay's mandate "[S]ounds good. Not so easy." And that from a professional leader who views the Foundation's relationship to community and communal values as the highest priority.

Scott Shay has stimulated discussion within the endowment and planned giving community; an excellent outgrowth of both bis speech at the JFNA 2017 Investment Institute and the ejewishphilanthropy publication. This is just the kind self-examination we should be doing in all areas of our organizations' philanthropic work. JFNA might be leading that kind of institutional introspection if it had a professional leader of its Endowment and Planned Giving Department and a functioning lay committee as it once did.

So, thanks to Scott Shay and may the reviews on-going in so many communities as to their investment policy extend to the other end of the endowment pipeline as well.

A person can still hope.

Rwexler

Monday, April 10, 2017

"LETTING THE LIGHT BREAK THROUGH"

Yes, be prepared to hear, read, see the dictate "Letting the Light In" many, many times in the weeks ahead inasmuch as Jerry Silverman chose this mantra for his uplifting Pesach sermonette -- and, then, used it over and over again. But the critical part of that message read this way:
"And so, as is our mission, we are working together with our partners — the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), The Jewish Agency for Israel, and others — to care for our family in Ukraine. Much of this work takes place behind the scenes, where we can be more effective on a personal, human level. It is critical, nonetheless, that we understand what is taking place to help the 'light get in.'" (Italics added)
Just a couple of problems with this sentiment -- they are highlighted in italics above:

  1. Unless you consider sending federation allocated dollars on to the JDC, JAFI and World ORT to be "working together," there just isn't any "working together" by JFNA whatsoever -- not in the Ukraine, not anywhere -- if there was, my guess is that Rabbi Jerry would cite some examples;
  2. Jerry clearly forgot the abject failure of JFNA's special fund raising effort on behalf of Ukrainian Jewry; 
  3. But Smilin' Jerry explains why there are no examples, doesn't he, when he explains that "[M]uch of this work takes place behind the scenes, where we can be more effective..." 
Really? I mean, really have you ever read more bullshit? Does even CEO Silverman believe this? Do the enablers -- Sandler, et al. -- believe this absolute crap? It is way beyond belief that Silverman may actually believe that JFNA is working "behind the scenes, where we can be more effective." (Perhaps, Jerry believes that as he went of a Mission that experienced JDC's work, Jerry thought he [in the l'etat c'est moi sense] was being "effective...behind the scenes.") 

To Jerry's credit, he lists a set of enumerated, vital activities of JAFI and JDC in the Ukraine as examples of what I'm guessing are efforts he would characterize as taking place somewhere in the darkness, somewhere behind the scenes. Yet, the only reason these activities haven't been viewed in the light is that JFNA has done nothing, or, at best, too little...way too little...to expose them to the federations.

If someone can cite examples of JFNA's own quiet work "behind the scenes" in the Ukraine, or anywhere else, send them to me and I will print them right here.

But there are some things on which we can "let some light shine:"

  1. JFNA is a parlous mess; doing so little that it must claim secrecy to so much and then make the claim that its real "...work (whatever that is, never explained), takes place behind the scenes;"
  2. Instead of building on successes, because there are none, JFNA fudges numbers (e.g., GA lay registration, Negev funding), hides consultant contracts behind false claims of confidentiality, moves Budget-approved funding from line item to line item with no governance approval; and more and more;
  3. And rather than promote the work of the Overseas partners, who have been relegated to no more than supplicants ordered to show up periodically to publicly thank JFNA and the federations for their allocations, even as those allocations have sunk to unprecedented low levels. 

Give us all a break. 

Chag Pesach sameach.

Wexler

Saturday, April 8, 2017

ISRAEL ADVOCACY

There was a pretty interesting set of table discussions at the recent JFNA Board Retreat lat January's end. The lengthy presentations and discussions on the relationship with Israel -- what Richard Sandler termed "Brand Israel" -- were a focus on what was the entirety of the Sunday evening session and flowed from a presentation on a Mission that, to me, sounded like any other, and, then, into a set of table discussions and reports on Monday morning. I won't repeat the results, but some of the recommendations from the tables reflected the sad reality that JFNA, when isn't screwing up old programs is busy restating the obvious. The entirety of the sessions was almost a rehash of some of the naivete reflected In the pablum of FedCentral.

But the lengthy sessions were built on the premise that JFNA is engaged in "Israel advocacy."  Let's be clear: It is not engaged and has not been. National Mission participation is so depressed that even the 2017 Prime Minister's Mission has been canceled; and JFNA has been at the forefront of redirecting Missions away from Israel (see, for example, our Post on January 28, Israel Is So Last Year) while community missions have remained mainly focused on Israel and planned independent of a JFNA which offers little value added. 

Sure, one would think that with $13 million budgeted for Israel and Overseas this year,
JFNA would have had, at some point over the last, let's say, 7+ years, set forth an Israel Advocacy plan, vetted it with the Executive Committee and Board, and implemented it. And, OK, let's admit that there was an almost four year distraction with a Global Planning Table that had not a single element of Israel Advocacy within the hundreds of pages of gobbledygook and millions wasted before it was killed in an assisted suicide. But that left about 4 years when that Israel Advocacy might have been planned and implemented.

It wouldn't be appropriate to ascribe blame to the JFNA: Israel and Overseas Department; we all know that leadership on JFNA policies must come from the Board and while "leadership" might come from Retreat Table discussions, a more rational outline might be this: the Board Chair and Executive Committee, and the Israel/Overseas Department in consultation with the CEO, identify "Brand Israel" as a priority for JFNA; the CEO/President would be charged to produce an Israel Advocacy Plan within, say, sixty days; the draft Plan would be vetted through the Israel/Overseas Department Committee; and then presented to the Executive Committee and Board. But, at least up until this point in time, at JFNA, there has been no process for anything that isn't purely ad hoc -- a new "process" for every new "thing," or, more likely, no process at all. In the context of Israel advocacy, if past is prologue, friends, there will be none flowing from JFNA at all. (And, never ever expect to read the summaries of those Retreat Table discussions -- they always appear to be nothing more than meeting filler.)

So, now, after the presentations and the Table discussions, and knowing of Richard Sandler's passionate embrace of the subject matter, let's see if JFNA moves this matter to the top, or near the top, of its so-called priorities -- directing that its many silos (FRD, Israel and Overseas, maybe whatever becomes of community consulting) collaborate on an Israel Advocacy Plan -- one we can all read and understand before it is adopted -- and that Plan's implementation. 

Or. maybe, JFNA Jerry will just farm it out to the Israel Action Network or JCPA or some other. Then JFNA won't have to worry about being held accountable -- as in all things.

We'll be watching.

Rwexler




Wednesday, April 5, 2017

WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

I was cleaning out some files as I moved my office and some of what I tossed brought back memories. 

For example....

Back in the early days of the rebirth of JFNA (that's at the time that Steve Hoffman was seated as CEO) when there was still the sense that the organization's future was bright, I presented a proposal to Board Chair Bobby Goldberg.

I had asked a broker client to undertake a pro bono assignment -- to determine whether there was available office space at the "right price" proximate to Chicago's O'Hare airport of sufficient size to absorb JFNA, what the rental cost might be, and, evaluating as well the comparable cost of remaining in New York City. At the time, JFNA had received a $1 million buy-out proposal from its New York City landlord. The "bible" the broker prepared identified five first class office building alternatives at an initial savings of $1 million per year ramping up to over $2 million over the term of a 10-year lease, not including: (a) the $1 million New York lease buy-out, (b) the savings in JFNA labor costs or (c) the reduction in the cost of living to a relocated JFNA staff. (It's also true that none of us could evaluate the dislocation to the staff that a relocation would cause.)

I sent the proposal to Bobby Goldberg, who had an in-depth working knowledge of real estate values and opportunities from a lifetime of real estate investment and lending and was dedicated to reducing operating costs at JFNA (then, of course, United Jewish Communities). Not more than just hours later, Bobby called me and said "this would be fantastic, we should definitely do this. I'm going to go over this with Steve (Hoffman)." I was optimistic given that Bobby saw, as did I, the opportunities to put tremendous savings to use for our People and to move JFNA closer to the vast number of federations thereby assuring a better chance at real engagement.

Not long after that initial conversation, Bobby called me: "This is a terrible idea. We aren't going to discuss it further." Bottom line, as you can probably guess, Hoffman had immediately told Goldberg that he had too much of substance on his plate having just taken on the CEO position and, though he had not even read the proposal, he was not the least bit interested. I understood Steve's position on this; I also got a pretty clear picture of the lay-professional balance between Board Chair and President-CEO at JFNA. 

The conservative estimate of what might have been saved over the fifteen year period since we examined the options is about $30,000,000 -- $30,000,000 that might have been used to fund a multitude of JFNA "Mailboxes;" or to serve the needs met in the Negev or through the ENP; to assist the most needy of our People whether in the Ukraine over bitter winters or Holocaust Survivors in our communities. I don't fault Steve Hoffman, then in his first months as CEO -- he did have so much on his plate -- but that should not have meant that in moments of greater "calm" that the savings we could have achieved for the federations be given appropriate consideration by a special committee. It wasn't.

"No more discussion."

Rwexler