Friday, September 25, 2020

"...EITHER GET BEHIND THE CHAIRPERSON OR GET OFF THE BOARD"

In a recent article in The Forward -- Infighting, turnover buffet the Joint Distribution Committee...-- on the continuing, perhaps growing, balagan at the top levels of the Joint we wrote about in our Post Whither JDC?, a minority of Board members appear to be continuing a battle they already lost when Mark Sisisky was elected the organization's new President. I'll leave this imbroglio to others suggesting only that all Board members and the new President engage in the introspection demanded of us at Yom Kippur.

Instead, I want to reflect on the demand by one Joint Board Member as demanded, according to a transcript of a contentious Board meeting: "Mark is the president, you either get behind him, or you get off the board." I have heard the same demand made of me back when I served of the JFNA Executive, and my objections to a given action were made at a meeting in private. These are not a demand for achdut; these are nothing less than a demand that a non-profit Board member: never dissent. This is not prescriptive for democracy; it is the precursor to autocracy.

Organizations have choices of what they want to be -- but one of those choices should never be to demand total obeisance to those in power. What should be...always...is total obeisance to the organization, its values, its purposes. And that obeisance demands expression, even dissent, when the emperor has no clothes. 

Friends, achdut is not a matter that can be demanded; it can only be created through open debate. It can't be imposed. And, when and where attempts are made to impose unity; those fail. They failed at JFNA, they failed at the Conference of Presidents and they will fail at JDC. 

Any Board Chair/President who demands that the organization's Board act in lockstep with him/her on all matters, in doing so has planted the seeds of organizational collapse. If good faith "dissenters" are forced into some form of ostracism; soon Boards become dysfunctional and institutions die. Non-profit leadership demands a certain amount of flexibility; an understanding that "I am not always right" -- a willingness to seriously consider dissenting views. 

So, to that JDC Board member, whose demand frames the title of this Post, I'd suggest a possible corollary: If you cannot tolerate good faith dissent, you should resign.

Rwexler



Monday, September 21, 2020

WHERE DOES ONE PLACE THEIR TRUST?

When Eric Fingerhut began his service as JFNA's new CEO and President, he was joining an organization of strangers to him. Certainly, for better or worse, he received guidance from the lay leaders who played the most significant role in his hiring. And, no doubt, he brought some mid-level professionals with him from Hillel as JFNA's budget reflected a small FTE increase in the Office of the President. And, naturally, Fingerhut spent his first months getting the JFNA "lay of the land" from its most senior professionals. 

And, Eric not being a rookie in Jewish organizational life, a strong and respectedf professional of reputed good judgment, of whom one would have expected that after the "break in period," we would have seen significant changes at the very top of the JFNA organization chart.

But...no. In the face of the pandemic, JFNA announced that it had down-sized by 37 persons, most of them mid-level professionals -- you know, as in almost every non-profit, those who are doing the work in the trenches. And the long-serving SVP Marketing and Communications left as well (and, relatively promptly, replaced). Pre-pandemic, Fingerhut announced that, in addition to his role as CEO/President he would serve as the head of FRD, after that position was vacated -- and, inasmuch as JFNA no longer appears to engage in FRD, once its primary fundtion and the one most demanded by the communities, this should not unduly burden him.

And, what is JFNA left with -- at the least, its two most senior professionals: its Executive Vice-President and its SVP Global Operations and Director General JFNA Israel. Now, to be honest I don't know much about what either of these prfessional leaders do but I'm pretty sure that whatever they may do includes: protecting and supporting each other; identifying other JFNA professionals who have been or will be sacrificed to the economic fall-out of the pandemic but not them; and, of course, kissing up to the CEO (a pattern they established early on with Eric's predecessor for whom the delivery of a constant supply of Diet Cokes was a high point of service) and to every lay leader whom they associate with JFNA power. 

And, whatever their roles really are these two drink very, very well from the Jewish money spigot. Yes $409,000 to the EVP; $347,000 to the SVP Global Ops. If the CEO was trying to identify additional  savings, he need have looked no further. But he did not. WHY NOT? I have no doubt that over the years, these two senior professionals have looked to a small groiup of lay leaders to succor their support. And, if not otherwise successful, this twosome proved the benefits of that support. And those lay leaders, recirculated through the JFNA leadership ranks as if they had demonstrated success in their prior roles, became reliant on these pros for information, and for mutual support -- effectively rewarding the pros' loyalty to them confusing that personal loyalty with loyalty to the organization.

More's the pity, friends.

G'mar tov.

Rwexler

Friday, September 18, 2020

A HAPPY AND HEALTHY NEW YEAR

 To all of you and your loved ones, a shana tova u'metukah. 


Rwexler

WAS THIS A JOKE?

 Speaking of a lack of focus...

While the media were focused on whether PM Netanyahu had “condoned” a UAE deal for F-35s as the “price” for recognition of Israel and a “peace deal,” the Jewish Agency and its “partners” at Keren Ha’Yesod announced a major venture with the 1000 person Jewish community of the Emirates...yes, you read that correctly — 1,000 Emirati Jews will have the benefit of a “partnership” with JAFI/KH. https://www.jns.org/jewish-agency-and-keren-hayesod-to-begin-activities-education-in-uae/

And if you think that this is nothing more than a JA publicity stunt — shame on you. After all, the Jewish Agency is in the midst of a financial crisis so deep that its emergency funding of communities suffering the financial pain of the COVID-19 pandemic had to be supported with a jewelry store-sponsored telethon;  and its communal support from the federations and KH are in an historic collapse. (Yes, that’s the same KH which has retained its 20% ownership of JAFI without any obligation to financial support for the Agency’s core budget which has now “adopted” the Jews of the UAE.)

And, not to be outdone, and never wanting to miss another shiny object, it was announced that JFNA would be joining JA and KH in this effort, whatever it may be, with the Jewish leaders of that 1,000 person community of the Emirates. G-d knows that JFNA’s bloated staff in Jerusalem has the capacity to take this — whatever it may be — on.

I have a suggestion for the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Council of the UAE, Yehuda Sarna: thank JA, KH and JFNA profusely and then seek out Yael Eckstein, the leader of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The IFCJ’s support comes with financial commitments and expertise. Something new and different for the New Year.

Then, apparently President Trump stuck a deal for "peace" (yet to be defined) between Israel and Bahrain; the deal celebrated on the White House lawn with the Emirates "deal" (yet to be defined, as well). Bahrain's Jewish community has 30 members. 

In celebration of the deals, JFNA CEO Eric Fingerhut reported that he flew directly from the White House ceremony to the Emirates' capitol to celebrate Rosh Ha'Shana with the Jewish community there. (Not sure whether the 1,000 Jews of the UAE have just one synagogue but, as the joke tells us, probably more.) Hope that Eric doesn't have to quarantine for weeks there; he probably has work to do at 25 Broadway or nearby.

Rwexler



Monday, September 14, 2020

MORE STUFF

 1. The JFNA Version of FRD. You may recall that after the departure of the JFNA FRD SVP, Eric Fingerhut announced that he would serve, in additioin to his other CEO responsibilities, as some kind of interim. professional leader of JFNA's financial resource development effort. Then, presumably in consultation with the JFNA National Campaign Chair, JFNA down-sized its FRD Community Consultation effort and, lately, best I can tell (and someone correct me if I'm wrong), JFNA has gone out of the FRD business -- at the worst possible time. (I think the National Campaign Chair still travels to communities to speak and inspire, but FRD...no.) 

But it was still surprising to read the "excited" announcement that thanks to the generosity of "seven national foundations," which granted "an $18 millon match to the Federation system, which can be matched on a 1:2 basis, creating a $54 million increase for our frontline servoce agencies and programs serving primarily Jewish community members." (No, I don't know what that means either.) This will forever be known as the Human Services Relief Matching Fund.

So, the matching funds have already been commited by the foundations; there is no indication in Chair Wilf's and CEO Fingerhut's announcement that JFNA will be doing any more fundraising -- having done none to this point anyway. Therefor it did come as a surprise that the Matching Fund will be chaired by the National Campaign Chair. 

I still remember the halcyon days of yore when the National Campaign Chair as his/her first responsibility was to actually raise money -- I know that was "so Oughts." I bet Mark Wilf remembers those days as well. They are no longer.

2. Maybe There Should Be a Training Program. Many, probably all of us, have Chaired meetings over our leadership years. Hopefully, we all learned from the best of leaders and passed what we learned on to those who followed us -- always either informally or by example. In all of my leadership roles, I always treqasured the opportunity to share.

Recently, I was to participate in a Zoom meeting of an organization I once Chaired.

Then I received the Agenda. It read like this:

  • Call to Order, Welcome -- Board Chair
  • Approval/Minutes -- Board Chair
  • Dvar Torah -- Someone other than the Board Chair
  • Direction of the Organization -- Board Chair
  • CEO's Message -- the CEO
  • Opportunities for Organizational Leadership -- Board Chair
  • Telling the Organization's Story -- Someone other than the Board Chair
  • Training Sessions -- Board Chair
  • Next Steps -- Board Chair
As Mel Brooks might have said: "It's good to be the Board Chair!!" 

This organization's Chair is a good person, from a great community, and I have probably been unfair. But...maybe not.

I think that along the way some organization should convene a training session for lay leaders that would include a component on Best Practices for Running a Meeting -- How to Share. Probably won't happen and, ifr it did, no one would attend because we all know how to run a great meeting...

Don't we?

Rwexler

Thursday, September 10, 2020

OUT OF STEP??

 JFNA distributed an important albeit opaque notice to its members and constituencies over the signatures of Chair Mark Wilf and the JFNA Domestic Affairs Committee Chair:

"This morning The New York Times published an ad (attached) with a letter signed by 600 Jewish organizations -- including six Federations – in support of Black Lives Matter. The ad was timed to coincide with the March on Washington which will take place both virtually and in person over the next two days.  We wanted to provide you some background information in the event you are asked for comment by stakeholders or the media. 

The sign-on letter was circulated two months ago.  Though it was clearly an open letter, there was no announced intention at the time to purchase ads in major publications.  JCPA sent the letter out to JCRCs encouraging them to sign.  We believed – and still do – that our work on these issues is better focused around the substantive, targeted efforts on which we have embarked.  That approach was set forth in this op-ed “On Racial Justice, We can All Do Better”.   

  

This year’s March on Washington is a combination of a virtual event created by the NAACP in collaboration with National Action Network, Urban League, and others set to unveil a “a bold National Black agenda” and an in person march led by the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network. We are not participating in this march, but are honoring the legacy of Dr. King in other ways, including through our policy advocacy.

 

We know that each Federation has taken important steps to fight racial discrimination and support racial justice in your communities.  At JFNA, we have devoted more resources to helping all our Federations respond to the important issues raised in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, to guaranteeing that all communities benefit from the important public programs and funding sources we support, and to working diligently to ensure that our communal institutions reflect our own Jewish diversity, including Jews of Color.  

 

Today is the 57th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, where Rev. Martin L. King gave his “I Have a Dream speech” to a crowd of more than 250,000 people.  As we enter this Shabbat, in this powerful month of Elul, we prepare our souls and spirits for the High Holiday season.  Let us all pray that we may be a part of the healing process for those who still lack full access to the opportunities and protections that society has to offer."

This admonition, if that is what the letter was meant to be, requires a real ability top read between the lines -- something I and you frequently have to do when it comes to Jewish inter-agency matters. So, that's what I am engaged in here -- I assume someone(s) will corrrect me if I am wrong. And this Post is not about the substance of JCPA's decision to join in/on the Virtual March on Washington as others have already done so -- e.g., Tablet's Leil Leibovitz in his vitriolic column: The Mind-Bendingly Insane, Completely Craven, Uttely Unconscionable Redemptiomn of Al Sharpton. https:www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/al-sharpton-jonathan-greenblatt-adl)

Then, on 1 September, the ADL, one of the other organizational supporters of the March, as The Jewish Weereported:

"'We’re witnessing an increasing politicization of this violence,' Alex Friedfeld, an investigative researcher at the ADL's Center on Extremism, told JTA. 'Rather than standing together as protesters and saying we will not condone the use of violence, people are blaming the other side for what happened. Rather than condemning the cycle, they’re perpetuating it. When you view everything though the lens of almost-life-or-death struggles, committing an act of violence no longer seems as unreasonable.JCPA'S failure to coordinate with the federations' umbrella body on policy and support at this important moment isn't surprising; the public affairs body has, as has been pointed out on these pages before, operated on an agenda of its own apparently without regard to those of the communities which provide the bulk of its funding. That has to stop; or the funding should stop.'" 

Confused? I am. 

If JCPA's lay and professional leaders believe that they are an organization that can exist independent of its funders, then b'hatzlacha and good-by. 

It is past time for JFNA, as the federations' representative, if not their leader, to undertake an independent review of JFNA's work, focus and purposes. It appears clear that. such a review cannot be entrusted to JCPA itself. Both the federations and JCPA should want alignment on the broad social issues and policies that confront the Jewish community; and there must be a way to achieve the alignment so that our system speaks with one voice. 

That alignment will not be achieved unless JFNA, as the representative of the primary funders of the JCPA  (as locally, in almost all instances, federations are the primary funders of local CRCs) is willing to assert itself -- something the organization has failed to do over its two decades. A letter is a start; but only a start. Now...action is needed.

Action would be a fine way to start the New Year.

Rwexler


 

Friday, September 4, 2020

INTROSPECTION

Forgive me.

I have written on this subject before responding to the question I myself had raised: what value does an organization have to its owners/members if it can only retain them as full-paying Dues members by threat of penalties? For example, take JFNA (as in the Rodney Dangerfield "take my ____ please), which has demanded Dues paid in full or in settlement of "hardships" (as determined by JFNA with no standards) threatening, inter alia, termination of donors participation from a federation even in financial hardship in the Young Leadership Cabinet, Women's Philanthropy or the General Assembly (when the last was a "threat" not of a lost benefit).

Here are the two rationales I've heard for requiring the payment of full Dues:


  • "If, insert community name here, fails to pay full annual Dues, it will destroy the System." Really? How do we know? Undisclosed Dues deals have been cut with a number of federations as JFNA leaders could not take the risk of non-payment. Unlike your, e.g., Country Club which "posts" names and numbers for unpaid Dues and assessments, JFNA and its federation members have effectively conspired to keep that information secret.
  • When JFNA has heard that there is a possibility that Community A will not pay or under-pay annual Dues, constituency Chairs and JFNA senior professionals call, e.g., National Women's Philanthropy or Leadership Cabinet leaders to "alert them." Then, the apparently irresistible pressure.

Oh, of course deals have been cut -- usually denied by JFNA and the impacted federation -- major cuts to Dues often long past due -- but never has JFNA examined even the possibility that the Dues Budget is disproportionate to the benefits federation receive. I share the belief that if we did not have JFNA we would have to create one -- the difference being that my belief in that truism is centered on the need to actually create JFNA anew. When was the last time the federations were convened to determine the purposes and goals that they wish JFNA to achieve? The answer: not since the merger which created the organization. Isn't 21 years long enough?
 
The extensive and expensive work of the Bridgespan Group was never designed to offer federations the opportunity to determine JFNA's directions and focus. I commend reading the Report if you can find one -- it has been determined to be "Confidential" (as I was reminded after I published small portions of the document) -- I have no doubt that Bridgespan could have conducted that research
but -- and I'm just guessing here -- JFNA's then lay and professional leaders just were far more interested in Dues formulas and excising the United Israel Appeal.

So, what would I suggest?

    1. Chair Wilf -- quietly request the retirement of all those officers who have served in more than one such role over the past decade, appointing a set of new Chairs who may have some new ideas and who have evidenced real energy;

    2. CEO Fingerhut -- take a further look at the JFNA professional roster and effect real change at the highest, rather than "mid-" levels. (Psst: it appears to this outsider that the JFNA EVP and the head of the JFNA Israel Office are joined at the hip, protecting one another. Other than that mutual aid pact: What have they accomplished in their long-term professional leadership roles?) In today's communal environment, there are great professionals whom I believe would want to work alongside the JFNA CEO;

    3. The Chair and the CEO -- appoint a true Blue Ribbon Committee of a group of Federation Chairs and CEOs representative of every City-size to conduct a deep dive into the purposes and foci of JFNA for the benefit of the federations. There needs to be a serious examination of whether it is time for JFNA to delimit its roles to those of a Trade Association (which many believe that it has already become -- an expensive one); or a more expansive set of defined roles for which federations are willing and will bind themselves to pay.

And, of course, more. Throughout a process, Federation leaders should read and then abide the advice of Rabbi Sherre Hirsch in her article in ejewishphilanthropy -- Time to Reassess What Is Essential.

Let's assure that federations finally will see value-added and a return on their investment in JFNA. What could be better than that?

Just get on with it.

Rwexler

Sunday, August 30, 2020

JFNA AND THE FETISHISTIC OBSESSION WITH NUMBERS

Most of you know me for the dinasour I am (and have been for a long time). My Continental service in Jewish organizational life began as a member of the United Jewish Appeal Young Leadership Cabinet. That was back in the day when the Cabinets (there were Men's and Women's) were focused on young leaders' capacity giving -- "capacity" tested in small groups where we were challenged individually to reach at or beyond our reach. It was the era the incredible scholar, our friend, the late Jonathan Woocher, z'l, recounted in depth in his seminal work Sacred Survival. So many of you grew out of the same experiences (who will ever forget those "caucuses," or the inspiration of Rabbis Yitz Greenberg and Irwin Kula, or the shock on the faces of the Gentile service staff at our antique venue, Harrison House, in Lake Bluff, Illinois, as 100 Jewish young men paraded behind the lanky Yitz singing out David Melech Yisrael through the halls). 

Our Cabinet commitment did not end with Lake Bluff even as some in Cabinet leadership had tunnel vision when it came to campaign. As my Cabinet responsibility I travelled monthly to Decatur, Illinois where UJA organized a group of 20 couples, most intermarried, with whom I explored Jewish texts, brought some scholars and engaged in a program that my great chaver (and tennis challenger) Bernie Reisman, z'l, developed. I know that I learned more through this two year experience than did my friends in Decatur.

UJA, back then, wasn't pumping out numbers of participants, it was "graduating" future (none of us pretended that we were current) leaders of federation, of UJA and of local agencies. And, from the leaders of the Cabinets sprung a series of Washington Conferences. While I had long since "graduated" from the Cabinet experience, the Washington Conferences I was privileged to attend were truly remarkable -- every one -- in terms of content, attendance, Yiddishkeit and demonstrable leadership. No matter one's age no one could attend the Conferences and not have been impressed. And, then, Aipac, with the energy of its Policy Conferences, sucked the air from the Cabinets' Washington Conferences all the while the Cabinets themselves were changing -- in my opinion, not for the better.

The first major change -- and all those which followed were similarly blessed by UJA lay leadership -- was the move away from capacity giving to a minimum gift -- at the outset a high floor for many of these young leaders, later a low bar as over the years, that "minimum" was seriously reduced in the interest of...numbers. (Your author was not immune from the seduction -- approached by the Cabinet leaders while I was UJA National Campaign Chair, I agreed with them that a further gift reduction would work.) Instead of the Washington Conferences, there was to be an Israel Conference that just didn't work. Cabinet Missions, once the most dynamic Israel experiences morphed into travel to almost "anywhere but Israel." And the evolution ultimately led to pool parties and Yoga weekends and other assorted narishkeit of the past decades -- programs that may build ruach and...numbers. Leadership though? I'll let you be the judges.

But the Cabinet leaders were merely following what became the JFNA "model" -- exaggerating the number of participants at all events, the most notorious of which were the annual General Assembly where year-after-year the number of paying registrants were exaggerated to the point of mockery. The result, after a decade of overstatement, the GA itself, once the seminal annual event was canceled for something called a "laboratory.".

(For those of you interested in some illustrations and definitions of "leadership," please read the award-winning article that the brilliant Jeff Solomon and I co-authored as the merger which created what is now JFNA moved forward -- Setting Standards for Volunteer Leadership and the Profession in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service. Therein we agreed that lacking codified standards everyone can be termed a "leader" and, thereby, there is little if any way to ascertain what true leadership is. Jeff and I identified the criteria we believed should be applied in defining "leaders.")

And, so JFNA, in the midst of the great and tragic economic crisis of the pandemic
chose to distract itself with the newest of "shiny objects" -- its Changemakers. As I have read the glowing, breathless reports from JFNA HQ which recited that 548....count 'em, 548..."...Fellows -- 20-25 years old -- representing more than 60 Jewish communities..." who began a "...three-week intensive Jewish leadership development journey." The journey? What's My Story? How Do I Find My Voice? How Do I Stay True to Myself? And, no doubt, other equally important themes. Together, these Changemakers we are told "...built a community, formed friendships," etc.

Now, I don't deprecate the achievement; I do question the end product and the timing. Are our leaders really suggesting that after three Zoomweeks will emerge 548 young "leaders" who will have immediately"earned" community Board service; that is, is JFNA with all good intentions setting up these young men and women for frustration, for unrequited expectations? And, while so many federations and agencies are literally underwater, needing help to survive, is Changemakers the best use of professional time or merely a distraction from the exceptionally hard work necessary to confront the crisis?

We all know that numbers had been an obsession of the prior JFNA administration,
leading to, e.g., the constant falsification of real attendance at GA after GA, event after event. Now, there is no suggestion that 548 isn't a real number; just that this may not have been the right time.

Again.

Rwexler




Friday, August 21, 2020

KAL YISRAEL AREVIM ZEH L'ZEH?? PROVE IT.

The last time that JFNA published the data on foundations and endowments within the Jewish federation world was in 2017, the statistics from 2016. Back then, the total of "assets under management" was $21.7 billion (you read that correctly). And, with most, if not close to all, of our communal institutions in extremis still in the midst of the COVID pandemic, the question has to be asked: when will any of our organizations -- are you listening JFNA -- take its head out of the sand and argue for an immediate and urgent commirtment of funds before (if we aren't there already) to these vital foundational blocks of the communities and the social safety net that we have built? WHEN?

In the earliest of days, even before the extent of the financial catastrophe that would accompany the pandemic but as an integral consequence of it, a small number of major Jewish Family Foundations stepped forward to address....certainly not meet -- address...what was then the incipient emergency. These Foundations recruited each other, ultimately raising a formidable $91 million through a vehicle they named the Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund -- as always, an acronym: JCRIF. Reading between the lines of the JCRIF's self-description, these founding Foundations were done soliciting other Foundations to join them, while the Fund "...welcomes additional investors." 

I doubt that now, as our organizations confront the incredible, overwhelming unmet needs generated by the pandemic directly and collaterally, anyone believes that $91 million -- as generous as that contribution for interest-free loans and an "aligned grant program" was, it could not possibly fully address the overwhelming needs...needs that grow 24/7. Yes, there are a number of remarkable communities, like Chicago, where the most generous have reached even deeper in the midst of the pandemic; but many more are confronting multi-million dollar deficits, closing agencies and programs...and getting neither guidance nor financial support from what we used to call "the system."

And, so the question -- what's next? What might be done? 

And, friends, the seminal question: is this the best that we can do....really? Our federations and our agencies and beneficiaries are facing the worst financial crisis in their (and our) history and, after this initial voluntary funding from that small number of Foundations...nothing. Why? What exactly is that "rainy day" these foundations and endowments have been building the corpus of their funds for, if not the deluge of today? So many of these self-same foundations and endowments have been built for the long-term on the philanthropic aspirations of the donors the distributions from which may or may not support the Jewish community or the organizations at the community's core. (In fact, I once asked the CEO of one of Large Cities most significant Jewish Community Foundations why they even keep "Jewish" in the name inasmuch as over 80% of its distributions were not to Jewish organizations.) To meet the real crisis of today, that must change.

JFNA, which as the inheritor by merger of the systemic fund-raising flag once flown with pride by the long-forgotten (by some) United Jewish Appeal, seems wholly satisfied with the allocations role assigned to it within JCRIF -- fund-raising? Are you kidding?  (Also, one can only note with frustration that JFNA seems to believe that it can continue with "business as usual" in the midst of the deepest financial crisis in communal organization history. How else can one explain the glee that JFNA leaders expressed over its brand new Changemakers programs, the latest shiny object to distract the so easily distracted?)

I know from historic experience that in its day, the UJA -- maybe with the similarly extinct Council of Jewish Federations -- would have immediately convened a national meeting (today by Zoom) to rally the federations, to lay out a national plan on the JCRIF "model" of loans and grants by reaching out to those whose wealth, the super majority of which is found in Supporting Foundations and Donor Advised Funds to recognize the emergency in which communities and beneficiaries find themselves today and then act in a manner similar/identical to that of JCRIF. Contrary to what appears to be the case evidenced by JFNA's inaction, this advocacy is one of the core purposes for which JFNA was created.

Yes, this would be hard. In many (most??) instances it would change the historic Planned Giving and Endowment "model" -- just raise and manage the funds and let the donor determine the beneficiaries -- no advocacy for any cause let alone a Jewish communal one. The reality of the historic crisis which we are all confronting now and into an indeterminate future cries out for changed practices. After all, the application of even a small portion of the $21.7 billion in assets under management (and, surely, that corpus has grown in the four years since the last accounting) could mean life or death to the social safety net federations and our local/national/overseas agencies have built over their history. 

Now is not the time for timidity.

Carpe diem.

Rwexler




Monday, August 17, 2020

WHITHER JDC?

Perhaps one of you can explain to the rest of us what has happened at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee over the past few years? How has one of our system's most vital Overseas partners come to this:

  • After a Search JDC hires a young law dean with no evident background or experience in Jewish life as its CEO only to watch this fish out of water flounder...at an unbelievable level of compensation ($850,000/year!!) He proved to be neither manager nor fund raiser. It took only a few months to convince many in JDC lay leadership that he had to go;
  • In a further deterioration, this on the lay side, a JDC Nominating Committee decided to support for President a lay leader from Virginia whose meagre Jewish organization background and lack of non-profit governance experience (and, no doubt, other substantive matters) gave rise to a contested election for the first time in the Joint's history. The institutional nominee, a gregarious business leader, prevailed -- how's that working out?
  • As if to prove his critics correct, the newly installed President, apparently unhappy with the direction taken by the JDC CEO Search Committee -- which had been dutifully vetting candidates for months -- decided, process be damned, and unilaterally attempted first to add multiple new members to the Search Committee and, then, apparently frustrated with his own interference,  unilaterally discharged the existing Search Committee appointing a successor Committee to succeed it. Some would argue this was all ok; after all, this interference was permitted by JDC's By-Laws. Yet, as anyone with Jewish organizational leadership experience knows, some discretion and building consensus are far better tools than "I can do it because the By-Laws say I can."
  • Caught up in the chaos and controversy was a long-term JDC senior professional who had garnered major support for the CEO position but was derided (and supported) in the press (in particular in a poorly sourced article in The Jerusalem Post). Ultimately, this excellent candidate withdrew from consideration.
I had the privilege, growing out of my service as National Chair of the United Jewish Appeal, to interact with a succession of incredible lay and professional leaders of JDC -- Ambassador Milton Wolf, z'l, Jonathan Kolker, Alan Jaffe on a through line to Stan Rabin with CEOs of incredible commitment, creativity and leadership, among them, Ralph Goldman, z'l,  Michael Schneider and Steve Schwager. I was privileged to join with these leaders in advocacy for the Joint's communal allocations. 

Back then, the Joint was a true "secret weapon" for good; but, long ago, the "secret" was out. JDC's work, in the Soviet Union and then in the FSU, throughout the Diaspora and in Israel, inspired and continues to inspire generations of donors with its life-saving work. But, somehow and somewhere, the Joint appears to have lost its way in the deep hole of organizational politics -- a CEO Search that yielded a bad choice followed by a divisive Nominating process that appears to have produced a lay leader focused on the powers of the office rather than the sacred purposes of the organization.

In the past months alone, JDC, with an interim CEO, has lost its preeminent Israel-based fund-raiser, faces a loss of a number of Board members growing out of the fiasco of the election and the Search, and, now, the leading contender for the CEO position has withdrawn her name.

This is not the JDC with which I or you grew up; what it will be remains to be seen.

Rwexler