Friday, May 16, 2008

TOTAL DISARRAY

This fiscal year, most federations voted to support a Budget for UJC of $40.2 million. I assume that those federations expected to get something...anything...from UJC during this fiscal year. Well, we haven't -- unless you can think of something that I've missed. We now see UJC in total chaos -- and, trust me, we could have paid a lot less and obtained the same results. Yesterday, UJC, over the signatures of two of its most senior professional leaders, tried -- tried very, very hard, in fact --to explain how the elimination of Missions planning and direction in New York and shifting almost the totality of that inspired and well-managed program up to 10,000 miles more distant from the federations will make it better and how Consulting Services will be enhanced. They wrote, among other things:




"The Budget aligns UJC operations with its strategic goals (adopted one year ago with the promise of results by this time this year): ...financial resource development of federations, convening mega-donors and growing our donor base, developing federation human resources..., building federation strategic branding, e-philanthropy, marketing and communications technologies, advocacy for the federation system...all within a framework of greater fiscal prudence."



All words..."too many words" to paraphrase Salieri. And, only words. Let's explore the "results." Let's look at where UJC is today and project its future under the current leadership:




  • Enhance financial resource development of federations. I guess that has been accomplished by: forcing out the top two FRD professionals, transferring almost all Israel mission programming from New York some 10,000 miles from the federations, effectively ending the "emerging communities" experiment, bifurcating Campaign and Supplemental Giving at a time UJC is preaching integration and collaborative fund raising models, hiring new senior professionals without regard for the reality that some have never made a federation annual campaign gift in their former communities. On studying the desperate needs of the people of Sderot, a UJC Work Group recommended the restart of IEC (the only contribution to IEC made by UJC to date had been its decision to recommend to federations that that Campaign be closed -- over Chicago's, among others, objections) -- the Work Group found at least $13 million in critical needs but also found that there was no money to allocate. UJC's action response -- an e-mail from Development to federation campaign professionals telling them how to start a campaign!!

  • The most exciting and vital annual UJC/federation Campaign event for the past decade has been the Campaign Chairs/Campaign Directors Mission bringing together 100's of Campaign Chairs -- women and general -- and federation campaign pros together on a pre-Mission showing the programs of JDC and JAFI on the ground in Europe, South America or elsewhere, culminating in Israel. I was so proud of my role at the creation of this incredible experience. For the 2009 Campaign, UJC leaders attempted to by-pass the Campaign Executive Committee, replan a Mission that has been totally effective by eliminating the pre-Mission (planned for Berlin) even going so far as to hear the Chair of the Executive question the purpose and the subsidy. Luckily, the eloquence of David Fisher, the National Campaign Chair, and the understanding of Morris Offit, Chair of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy, saved the day. These experiences, the marginalization of the Development effort, the maltreatment of Campaign professionals -- with family and business obligations, all of this and more certainly contributed to David Fisher's decision not to seek a second year Chairing the Campaign. At the Budget & Finance Committee meeting ten days ago, UJC leadership told the Committee it was terminating the Blue Knot High Tech leadership initiative -- literally "out of the Blue."

  • Let's be clear, this highest strategic priority is nowhere reflected in UJC's activities except in the rhetoric of UJC's leaders. Rhetoric costs nothing and achieves nothing.

  • Convening mega-donors. Well, the Center for Jewish Philanthropy is up and running. Great!! At one and the same time, mega-foundations have begun to raise questions about UJC's execution of its responsibilities. And, the Large City Executives, independent of UJC convened a meeting with the executives of the mega-foundations, "inviting" the UJC CEO to participate (he sent one of his Senior Professionals who had no FRD experience). In the 2008 Budget $400,000 was allocated to jumpstart an effort to revive the concept underscoring the Trust for Jewish Philanthropy. That money was spent -- on what exactly?

  • Growing our donor base. Donor numbers continue to fall. The evidence of any program to acquire new and more donors is not visible to the naked eye although a Development professional has been assigned the responsibility.

  • Developing federation human resources. There is the Mandel Program in which UJC is a partner. Pioneered by a great professional, Steve Hoffman, during his time as UJC's CEO, the effort continues. Its UJC professional leadership was driven first by Ron Meier -- he's gone -- and then by Debbi Roshfeld -- she announced last week that she is leaving.

  • Building federation strategic branding. Last year the Budget included an $845,000 consulting contract on the subject (with a firm with no relationship to the federation experience) that had been negotiated for weeks before the Executive Committee considered the program. The research study has been on hold for weeks awaiting the arrival of a new Senior Vice-President Marketing and Communications. Yes, that's $845,000 of your and my money.

  • e-philanthropy, marketing and communications technologies. A NextGen mega-donor approached UJC in 2006 and, having seen the incredible potential for e-philanthropy, went to UJC where he outlined his thoughts and expressed his willingness to fund this effort out of his own pocket on top of his and his family's $1 million gift to Vicki Agron, Sam Astrof (who was heard to comment later "we really connected") and, then, one-on-one, with Howard Rieger. After a long meeting, Rieger told this mega-donor "we'll get back to you." Rieger then not only rejected the plan, he told many others that the mega-donor "...was going to take the cost off his gift" -- totally destructive and untrue. So, UJC, other than in its leaders' rhetoric, is another two years behind the curve on e-philanthropy and all this mega-donor can think is (1) this is not a place that welcomes me or any new ideas and (2) UJC only want programs it can totally control. Nice.

  • Advocacy for the federation system. Really? Have you seen any? For Israel@60, a great opportunity for UJC to represent the system, UJC couldn't even find the funds to partner in any of the federation celebrations around the country let alone on the National Mall next week; it couldn't find the spot on the GA Program to honor the 20th Anniversary of the federations' leadership of the Rally for Soviet Jewry that so distinguished and energized our communities; it terminated the work of its Task Force on Volunteerism. Its leaders used the UJC Bond Program to threaten a Federation which itself had threatened not to pay its dues. UJC's lay engagement with federations large and small has only been about its dues, its Budget, its plans. I would only observe that UJC today is more distant from any advocacy (except for itself and its budget) that at any time in its history.

One of my friends and partners in Jewish life, observing the purge that took place at UJC this week and over the past two years, asked me a simple rhetorical question: "Who is accountable for this mess? Where is the accountability?" Certainly those who have left, been forced out or fired at UJC are not responsible. And, while you and I bear no small amount of responsibility for allowing this chaos to exist, perpetuate and grow, ultimately, those who are responsible are those taking no responsibility for where UJC is today -- the Chair and CEO.

On the Cover of the Program for the recently concluded Peres Conference -- Facing Tomorrow is a quote from Albert Einstein:

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning."

When will you start? Now, UJC's leaders, as they did one year ago, will once again ask, after overseeing the disarray they have themselves created with our federations' $40.2 million: "Trust us. Give us just one more year...just one more." Yet, these "leaders" have isolated themselves in the "echo chamber" they have created, an echo chamber that shuts out all voices but their own, or when they believe it convenient, one ot two or three Large City Executives willing to run to their rescue. The "echo chamber" effect is self-evident -- and these "leaders" seem incapable of its deconstruction. When will the owners take charge? When will there be accountability?

"The important thing is not to stop questioning."

Shabbat shalom.

Rwexler




3 comments:

Dan said...

As a strong believer in ephilanthropy to reach our next generations, I welcome any additional background, thoughts etc. related to this decision by the UJC, ways to go forward etc. Feel free to reply in confidence off list if you prefer.
ejewishphilanthropy [at] gmail dot com

I_work_at_UJC said...

RWEX-

I work at UJC. Granted, I am only a middle manager with nowhere near the brilliance and insight of yourself. In my own humble way, I am taking it upon myself, on behalf of many colleagues I could list on fingers and toes, that your categorical dismissal of the value of our work is completely insensitive, unfair and biased.

You may have a vendetta against our leadership. That is your business. You may demand better accountability for our work. Fine.

But you should beware of placing yourself on such a high pedastal that you fall into the ignorant and oversimplified bliss of a autocrat who criticizes and condemns without being able to see the facts on the ground. Even federation execs don't always know what is going on in the trenches and their perspectives are not total gospel.

I work very hard each day. I could bring you references of federation professionals of all city sizes who would assuredly say that I add value and benefit to their daily grind. I can think of many talented, devoted UJC colleagues in a similar position. Our pride and sensitivies matter, even though we are not senior executives or rich lay leaders like you and your cohort.

While overall UJC does need to improve, and I am sure you will find some clever way to mock me and my sentiments in your next post so that you can avoid facing the truth of what effect you are having on the lives and morale of real people doing real work for the Jewish people, I strongly assert you owe alot of us an unequivocal apology.

RWEX said...

I_work_at_ujc:

To the extent that you, or any professional at UJC who is making a difference for our People and our federations every day, believe that my criticism has been directed at you or them, I apologize and ask that you read what I have written...all that I have written... once again. I think that I have been more than clear that the disarray at UJC is the fault of those who lead it, not those who have left, not those who have been fired and, if I have not been clear enough, not those who continue to do their jobs there.

I have taken what responsibility might be mine as well. Thanks for taking the time to write.

Rwexler