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


Friday, March 6, 2020

HOW, EXACTLY?

Friends, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reported a few weeksd ago the results of a study by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy that chariable giving in 2020 is projected to incrase by 4.8%. So I ask for our communal system: How, Exactly might that come to pass?

And, the reason I ask is that for most of our communities, our agencies, local and national, and our historic overseas beneficiaries, the Jewish Agency and the Joint, annual campaigns have been in serious stasis, if not worse than that. There are, of course, exceptions -- the Jewish National Fund - U.S.A., the Chicago Jewish United Fund, Baltimore and a few others come to mind -- but the rule has been...stasis if not worse.

And, where are we? 

  • At the Jewish Agency, as I've written ad nauseam, a great professional fund raiser has left, her staff remains but financial resource development leadership is now in the hands of the JAFI CEO, not a fund raiser (not that she couldn't be), the head of campus shlichim, not a fund raiser, a. former American federation professional, not a fund raiser, etc. JAFI is receiving less core budget support from the federation system than at any time in its 90 year history. Hire a fund raising professional, one who will demand that the lay leadership -- from North America and, yes, from Keren Ha'Yesod and the WZO (!) -- step up and make financial commitments to the organization reflecting their financial capacity.
  • At the JDC, with a number of superb professionals, proven successful fund raisers on its Israel staff, FRD suffered a major blow when its last CEO (who has now returned to academia), proved to be a major fund raising disappointment. Like JAFI, JDC is receiving less core budget support from the federations than at any time in its history; unlike JAFI, JDC has a strong lay leadership cadre of philanthropists willing to advocate for the organization within their federations, but are they "able?"
  • FRD at JFNA confuses me. CEO Eric Fingerhut, so bright and inspirational, determined shortly after he was hired that, with no federation fund raising experience, he would take on the vacant senior FRD leadership position at the organization. As someone once said: "mistake, big, big mistake." The JFNA CEO should engage in financial resource development, certainly; he shouldn't lead that effort. Hire a senior campaigner -- BTW, Gail Reiss appears to be available and knows our system as well as any campaigner. The JFNA Campaign Consulting Team has experienced a great deal of turnover -- turnover it can hardly afford -- at the top, losing two of its best (one from Chicago, another from New Jersey). Financial Resource Development at JFNA had already collapsed. Eric and Chair Mark Wilf need to totally reorganize this effort -- bring your best and brightest professionals from the communities, forget about the usual cookie-cutter consultants and get it done.
The line between real success and continuing failure is incredibly thin.

Rwexler



Sunday, March 1, 2020

MYTH-MAKING

Natan Sharansky has been our hero since we first heard his name -- Refusenik, Prisoner of Zion, oleh, political leader, Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, author, freedom advocate, and more. He has been the friend of Presidents and a living bridge between Israeli political leadership. Israeli religious leadership and Diaspora Jewry. And I am not even doing him justice with this litany of his incredible life and leadership.

One thing is absolutely certain: Natan's history needs no embellishment.

So I was really surprised to hear the JAFI Board Chair, who presented the Agency's Telling Our Story and included this:
"Sharansky: no greater fighter for justice and freedom, standing up to the Soviet Union, and as the head of The Jewish Agency creating the solution for egalitarian prayer for Jews at the Western Wall." (emphasis added)
Oh, were it only so.

Sharansky's efforts to create that "egalitarian prayer space," appointed to do so by Prime Minister Netanyahu were heroic. All of us, especially those in Jewish Agency leadership, know that an historic agreement was reached among all of the parties -- religious leadership, Women of the Wall, and the PM --  only to see the Prime Minister renege, the agreement collapse and "the solution" disappear out of the fog of Israeli politics.

Are there those in JAFI leadership wo believe that the matter of egalitarian prayer space was somehow resolved? Was Michael Siegel's conclusion as expressed above based on some empirical evidence that I somehow missed? Or was this some form of wishful thinking? Yet, later in his presentation the Board Chair observed:
"Western Wall policies are (sic) an example of world Jewry needing a voice in Israel. While the Western Wall agreement wasn't a perfect solution, we're continuing to fight for better outcomes."
Huh? As noted above there is no Western Wall agreement!! The Prime Minister of Israel, fighting for his Coalition, walked away from it as if it never existed at all. And our silence in response was deafening. (In fact, you will recall, when the "agreement" was reached JFNA and JAFI leaders were guilty of premature celebration and, thereafter, not just quiet condemnation but a public embrace of Mr. Netanyahu's lame excuses delivered to a GA that should haveexpressed active disbelief.)

No, Natan Sharansky's life needs no embellishment -- he will always be a light to the nations and a Hero of the Jewish People. Aren't those enough?

Rwexler


Monday, February 24, 2020

SOME MORE FOLLOW-UP

1. After Gail Reiss's abrupt resignation and departure (one day later!!!) from her position as CEO of JAFI/JAID, JAFI North America and JA leadership determined to move forward with a long-scheduled leadership Retreat rather than postponing it to a later date. I've read the Retreat papers and they were excellent -- had the meeting been held in 2002. In fact, almost the identical meeting and Agenda were held in 2002 and 2003 and 2004 -- with the same results I'm afraid.

BTW, I am particularly pleased that after 15 years of my own failed advocacy within JAFI'S lay and professional leadership for greater advocacy at the federation level, with JFNA's perverse but well-executed "encouragement" (in its abandonment of UIA and the Jewish Agency and its own failed "advocacy"), JAFI NA and JAID will now move forward. They have no choice; but, then again, they never did. Leaving that non-existent advocacy to JFNA was the disaster anyone could have predicted it would be.

Sorry, sisters and brothers, that ship left the port -- check the allocations. Still, this is an important exercise. 

Now, hire a fund-raiser. And, give that professional a chance and the time to succeed. (And, don't tell me that you've already done so -- no, you hired a succession of great professionals and never gave them the time or the support.)

I recommend that those interested reread (or read) the Comments 
to my recent Posts on the subject. In all events, good luck to them.


2. There was some quiet skepticism when we in Chicago hired Lonnie Nasatir away from ADL to succeed Steve as Chicago's CEO while at one and the same time Steve would remain as "Vice Chair"  (or some such title) for a few years continuing his Herculean fund-raising, building a "Fund for the Future." But the transition has gone exceptionally well here. Steve has made clear that "CEO" is Lonnie's job, Lonnie is the spokesman, and the professional face of our Federation; no longer his. That says a lot about Steve after 40 years of professional leadership and a lot about Lonnie and Chicago's current lay leaders, as well.

Now, I am wondering about a similar "succession" that doesn't appear on the surface to be working as well or well at all. I am looking at the Conference of Presidents where, as you know, William Daroff succeeded the inestimable Malcolm Hoenlein as CEO and President. Malcolm apparently is now titled Executive Vice Chair of the Conference, still giving interviews (most recently reflecting on the Conference Mission stop in Saudi Arabia). 

In an interview in Jewish Insider on February 21, Daroff confirmed Malcolm's continuing leadership role:jewishinsider.com/2020/02/conference-of-presidents-ceo-william-daroff-reflects-on-annual-mission-to-israel/reflects-on-annual-mission-to-israel/

I'm certain Malcolm wants William to succeed but if he cannot back away completely from any public role for the Conference, he will make William's transition difficult...very difficult. Maybe some lay leaders might intervene?

rwexler

Thursday, February 20, 2020

RISING UP?


I am pretty good at reading "between the lines" of Jewish organizational Reports, Minutes and narishkeit. And, so...

In the Board Chair's Summary of JFNA's Members meeting/vote on modifying the JFNA Dues formula (for questions raised see Is There Real 'ROI' Here, my Post on the subject), this sentence stood out:
"We recognize there are issues to work through to address concerns and questions raised on the call. I encourage us to all work together in the spirit that characterizes our collective system and move forward." (Italics added)
90 of 146 Federations voted in favor -- that's a relatively healthy 61% majority; yet, 56 federations did not vote "yes" -- an unhealthy number, certainly. But, doing that "reading between the lines" thing, Chairman Wilf clearly suggested in his "summary" that there were some strong objections registered -- something the prior administrations tried desperately to suppress. Mark Wilf and Eric Fingerhut have their work cut out for them.

Perhaps some objections were harsh, not "in the spirit that characterizes our collective system" (who writes this stuff?) -- whatever that means. Sounds like a good debate. This caused me to think back to the debate on the Resolution that implemented JFNA leadership's commitment to emasculate UIA. Objections at that meeting last year were expressed respectfully -- leadership's "objections to the objections" were expressed by some venomously, angrily and clearly "not in the spirit..." yada, yada, yada.

I agree with JFNA's leaders that a revision to the Dues formulary has been long overdue -- inasmuch as the last revision (one on which I worked under a terrific leader, Cleveland's Albert Ratner's, leadership) was in 2002 and which, at the end of the day, resulted in a formula that left too much to communal interpretation and created too many loopholes. But, the suggested "cure?"

As one of the FOB pointed out to me, the problem here is that JFNA starts from an annual premise of entitlement -- reflected in the constant $30 million base point for a Dues discussion. There is no discussion, no debate, about that. Why is the Dues base presumed to be the "minimum?" Why not $50 million (only kidding) or $20 or $15? Shouldn't that be the place to start the debate about Dues? I mean, really, if the JFNA Dues Budget were rational and transparent, the debate among the federations would be wholly different. 

My suggestion to JFNA’s leaders, with respect, is to reboot the Dues discussion. Start this time by building the Budget brick by brick — stop talking about “zero-based” and actually 
DO IT.  Once communities debate a Budget and their buy-in is assured for a Budget that demonstrably and directly benefits them; then a new Dues formula follows logically. 

Wishful thinking...maybe.

Rwexler

Saturday, February 15, 2020

FOLLOWING UP

Friends, a number of you wrote to me in response to last month's Post Confused? I Am with appropriate and incisive Comments. I appreciate them all. The one which follows here  struck me as most important for our continuing discussion. 
 "The leader that you refer to and quote is indeed speaking for the Jewish Agency's Israel-Diaspora  role. Those that know her know that she is certainly not speaking against JAFI or funding it. 
We can also be sure that she means well.

The problem is that she, like many others, have been wrongly convinced by the JAFI leadership that the answer to dwindling funds is for JAFI to reinvent itself and become something else. They are leading the Agency to become totally donor-driven rather than the mission-driven organization that it always was.

While fighting Antisemitism and strengthening communal security are important, they are not the role of the Jewish Agency.
 JAFI has a very strong partnerships program for strengthening Israel-Diaspora relations, a platform which could easily grow and expand to rise to today's needs without throwing out the rest.
The problem with the Jewish Agency is not what it does but that what it does is evidently not appealing enough anymore to the federations, that we have stopped meeting our commitments to Israel and through Israel to ourselves and the Jewish People. 

The solution is that WE need to understand what is really important and that the Jewish Agency must now unfortunately invest heavily in marketing its true mission and fundraising for it.

Shame on us for allowing this to happen on our watch!"

We are living in times when our communities have shown a willingness to walk back even walk away from our historic values and commitments reflected in our collective responsibilities. For example, the relationship between JAFI and UIA, that of agent and principal respectively, has been stood on its head; or Community A where it has been  decided that care for the Jewish aged in our midst, once a sacred communal responsibility  is "too expensive," and they are to be abandoned; or another federation )or more) which has decided it will no longer be the central planning body, it will be something called a "convener," and so it goes. 

Who questioned a Jewish Agency "plan" to become another "player" in the arena of Global anti-semitism? Who questioned JA's determination to fund local community security? Did UIA demand that JAFI, UIA's agent, prove its provenance in this newest area of its claimed priorities before approving its latest and most diminished allocations as is UIA's obligation?

How would you answer these basic questions?

Rwexler

Monday, February 10, 2020

BIZARROWORLD

On February 5, a friend forwarded on a terse statement from the Jewish Agency's Director General to the "Leadership of the Jewish Agency North America," advising that Gail Reiss, the JA North America/JA International Development CEO for the last year, "...will be leaving the organization effective February 7. Yeah, that's right, the next day. While no reason was stated, there was this:
"[T]he decision comes at a time when The Jewish Agency is building our structure and determining our model of operation as a result of the Strategic Change Process."
As Gail Reiss described the action cryptically in her own letter to North American leadership on February 7: "The Jewish Agency has decided to reorganize/restructure their efforts with Financial Resource Development." In another departure letter resonating like one demanded by someone, Gail after stating how honored she was to work for JAFI, she wrote: "...and I respect their work." (Maybe Gail was strapped to a chair unable to leave.)

JAFI's own message went on to announce that on an interim basis JAFI head of North American Shlichim and the JAFINA COO, with the active engagement of the JAFI Director General, will be running the show. It should be noted that these very fine professionals have not demonstrated any fund-raising experience. 

When she joined JAFI, I wrote on these pages my concern that Gail would be treated to the same unreal expectations of her potential success as were all -- all -- of her predecessors. I pled for patience, to give Reiss the chance to replicate the success she had had at Tel Aviv University, and New York-UJA and the national United Jewish Appeal. Precedents suggested that her term would end no better than her predecessors'. It didn't.

And, of course, the Jewish Agency pattern of undermining its worldwide fund-raising effort continued -- Gail Reiss, one of the best FRD lead professionals with whom I and others ever worked, never had a chance, I was told; she sure wasn't given one. From David Sarnat, to Maxyne Finkelstein, to Misha Galperin, to Josh Fogelson -- each a great professional, each frustrated by decisions made by JAFI Jerusalem after they were hired by JAFI to lead JAFI-NA and JAID -- each ultimately left the organization while on the cusp of success. Now Gail joins that list: she had a little over 12 months on the job for a very complex organization and clearly never had the necessary support from those at the top of the Jewish Agency. 

If the Agency is contemplating taking its FRD efforts in-house, centralizing it in Jerusalem, going back to the future as it were -- that's been tried before; it was an abject failure. Jerusalem is incapable of raising funds: it has proved to be so for decades. This would be all about control; and it would end up being all about failure. 

The Jewish Agency International Development was created to raise funds in support of the Jewish Agency's work. Now it will be professionally led on an interim basis by three leaders with no provable fund-raising involvement. Meanwhile community financial support for the core activities of JA is at an all-time low.

Like you, I love the photos of JA Executive Chair, Bougie Herzog, as he travels the Jewish World spreading the word, offering comfort or inspiration. Bougie has always been a personal favorite. And I have great admiration for Michael Siegal, now the Agency's Board Chair, a great philanthropist dedicated to the organization. But...where the hell are decisions being made -- on staffing, on mission, on strategies, on programs -- and what is informing those decisions? Did they believe that again would show up at the Sachnut on day 1 in a Brinks truck hauling bags of tens of millions?

I have a serious suggestion for Michael, Bougie and Amira: give JAFINA/JAID a chance to succeed. The continued interference in JAID/JAFI NA FRD has been disastrous -- it is as if the Jewish Agency never loses an opportunity to lose an opportunity.

I am confident that Gail Reiss will emerge from this experience strengthened, ready to lead a good organization to a better place. The Jewish Agency, however...

JAFI has truly morphed into BizarroWorld, not a good place to be. 

Rwexler

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

THINGS BIG AND SMALL

~~ One big thing...Dov Ben Shimon, the MetroWest federation President and CEO, has demonstrated in word and deed that he "gets it," recently published an interesting article across social media: Let's Meet Up, Literally. In it Dov urges that all Jewish organizations which engage with the federation system and all JFNA constituencies commit to attending the General Assemby (I assume that the author would also suppport making the GA meaningful and relevant to the attendees, but that's another matter.)

It may be of interest but I had urged this on a smaller scale for decades (until I threw in the towel when I could convince no one in leadership). Back when I had some "clout" at the United Jewish Appeal (so you know how long ago that really was), I suggested to UJA’s National Women's Philanthropy leaders that they hold their national and worldwide meetings in conjunction with the GA -- the suggestion did not just meet resistance, it was rejected out of hand. 

As Ben Shimon has framed his "let's all meet" plan, I'm hoping that all those to whom he addressed his plan give it real consideration.

~~ On a lesser note we read the following announcement: 
"Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion...is also receiving a $500,000 NEH (National Endowment for ther Humanities) Grant for the construction of a special collections facility to house the records of the Jewish Federations of North America." (Emphasis added) 
https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/hucs-american-jewish-archives-to-house-jfnas-multi-million-document-collection/?utm_source=Jan+31,+2020&utm_campaign=Fri+Jan+31&utm_medium=email
I have to assume that these "records" will include those of UJA/UIA/CJF in addition to those of the Jewish Federations of North America. If not, not much space will be needed to store the Minutes of ONAD or the Global Planning Table, assorted and discarded Strategic Plans, a file drawer filled with take-out menus, and one unused treadmill, mint condition.

Seriously, this is a wonderful Grant. My congratulations to all those involved. There will be more about this in a later Post.

Rwexler