Thursday, February 14, 2008


In late 2003, I received a call from Steve Hoffman, then UJC's brilliant CEO. "I'm calling for Bobby (Goldberg, the Chair of the UJC Board) and we would like you to Chair a Task Force to help the federations and UJC in developing some best practices to deal with the mass of organizations taking federation money but then coming into our communities and doing direct fund raising." I saw this as a real and exciting challenge. My chief professional on the Task Force was to be Yitzchak Shavit, a long-time professional partner of mine, who knew the Israel and financial resource development scenes as well if not better than anyone. It looked like a process in which UJC could make a real and positive impact for our federations. But, it was not to be. Here's the story.

Shavit and I met soon after to structure the work ahead. We would call on Dallas's Michelle Tycher Stein to provide us with marketing and communications guidance (Shavit having worked with Michelle on many United Israel Appeal projects), and we would call on Dvora Blum and Barbara Promislow from the UJC Israel Office where their insights were to prove invaluable. (Dvora inexplicably resigned from UJC a couple of months ago -- she will be sorely missed.) Our Task Force was already in formation --it would be made up of front line professionals -- CEO's and FRD Directors -- from the Large Cities, Large-Intermediate and Intermediate federations across the country who were confronting this "invasion" by our system's beneficiaries 24/6. Our first meeting, by teleconference was filled with examples, impacts and debate, and ended with instructions to us to examine the issue in depth and prepare some Draft Guidelines as a starting point.

Yitzchak suggested that we get a handle on the Israeli NGO's as well as JAFI's and JDC's potential roles in a visit to Jerusalem. With the assistance of Dvora and Barbara, we traveled to Jerusalem in Winter 2004 for 2 days of meetings they had arranged with, among others, academic leaders in the study of Israeli NGO's, representatives of the Justice Ministry, wonderful and creative leaders of American foundations' and federations' Israel-based professionals -- the meetings were remarkable, the information received daunting. Israeli NGO's were in a period of explosive growth unheard of in the non-profit world, they were generally unregulated, many, if not most, filed no annual reports and had neither Board of Directors nor published budgets, etc. Our last meetings were with those responsible for Financial Resource Development at JAFI Jerusalem and JDC Israel. We were delighted when they readily agreed that not only would JAFI and JDC conform to Guidelines which required prior consultation with Federations (clearing of names, events, etc.) but that JAFI/JDC would provide in future contracts with beneficiaries that those receiving federation funds through them would similarly be bound. We were well on our way -- or so we thought.

We returned home and I began drafting what would come to be called "The UJC Campaign Resource Guidelines." Based on the local Guidelines employed with great continuous success in Chicago, our Draft when implemented would require all recipients of federation funding directly or indirectly to observe local campaign calendars, pre-clear names of prospective donors and events with the federation, effectively bringing the organization into the federation ambit. At our consultant's, Michelle Stein's suggestion, UJC would in return assist non-profits seeking to enter a federated community in meeting the bare bones requirements of not-for-profit registration, budget preparation, creating a volunteer board, etc. Further, UJC would offer rudimentary fund raising training. We perceived the process would be locally "enforced" -- with a reporting mechanism to UJC that would enable the national entity to provide appropriate recognition to complying beneficiaries and announce to the federation world those that were "out of compliance."

The Draft Guidelines were reviewed by the Task Force and changes were made at their request -- the substance of the Guidelines remained as summarized above. By the end of Calendar Year 2004, the Task Force felt that the Guidelines were ready for consideration by the UJC Board at its Winter 2005 meetings in Ft. Lauderdale. We went to the Board Meeting with confidence. Although Howard Rieger had succeeded Hoffman as CEO, we felt we had his support and that of Goldberg and Sonny Plant, z'l, the Chair of the Executive. I was hit with questions, most from leaders of UJC who also chaired organizations actively engaged in invasive fund raising within the federations. (They didn't announce their conflicts in making their often passionate arguments.) The Guidelines were tabled. (After the vote, Goldberg addressed Terry Rubenstein, a terrific philanthropist, who opposed the Guidelines and did not do so without any conflict whatsoever. Goldberg shouted out: "See, Terry, this proves that we encourage dissent here." I was upset inasmuch as the leadership failed to speak out in support of the Guidelines which they professed to support privately.)

The Task Force determined to make some modest changes to the Guidelines and we recirculated them but, for reasons never made clear, they were not placed on the Agenda for the June 2005 UJC Board meeting. Finally at the Toronto 2005 General Assembly, the Guidelines were unanimously approved.

If you're still with me, this is where the cautionary part begins. About two weeks after the 2005 GA, I called Shavit and said: "Itzik, we ought to convene the Task Force and start the implementation process." Itzik responded, "Sorry, Richard. after the GA Howard told me that the Task Force has done its job, you're 'fired' and I am no longer involved." Nice way to find this out, I thought. I called Rieger who told me that implementation, in his and "leadership's" view, no longer required a Task Force or lay involvement -- it could be done professionally and would be. I asked who would be responsible and was told: Barry Swartz and the Consulting Services Department. I have yet to receive the generic "Thanks for your service letter" but clearly as you will read, there is still time.

Periodically thereafter I would contact Barry to see where implementation stood. First, I was told in early 2006, Barry (with his strong right arm, Becky Sobelman Stern) was "working on an implementation plan" and working on it and, apparently, really working on it. Finally, after six months or so of this, in exasperation and in response to Task Force members, make that "former Task Force Members," inquiries, I asked Howard what the heck was going on. Howard told me that: "Barry has developed a plan." I wrote Barry. His response a couple of weeks later was to send me a timeline -- not a "plan" by any means -- for implementation. I explained that to Barry; and did not hear back. Weeks after my last inquiry, I received an e-mail from Swartz advising me that UJC Israel had "modified" the Guidelines and sent them around in Jerusalem. The revisions were attached to Swartz's transmittal -- the Guidelines which had dragged through UJC's processes for so long and eventually passed by the Board had now been unilaterally revised by staff!! It's now, if you hadn't noticed, 2008. I am willing to wager that as of the date of this Post the Chair of UJC's Consulting Committee, Houston's wonderful leader Esther Pollan, knows nothing about the Guidelines.

The Resource Development Guidelines were a federation-driven activity. The Task Force was made up of many of the best and brightest in our system. Tremendous lay and staff time was invested in their preparation. The Guidelines had the potential to be a boon to the relationship of UJC and the Federations with our beneficiaries and to assert to one and all the primacy of the federations Annual Campaigns. Over two years after the UJC Board's approval of the Guidelines, they have not been implemented. Hundreds of beneficiaries have hit upon federation donors in the meantime.

A cautionary tale for our times.


1 comment:

hmm said...

I appreciate your blog and your thoughts. Please keep sharing your stories and insights into the system.