Friday, July 25, 2008


One of those right wing TV talking heads has created what he has called the "No Spin Zone;" at UJC they tend to spin the truth like a dreidel, hoping no one will notice -- or will be willing to accept fiction as fact. It's the "Spin Zone." Hence, the news that Howard Rieger "will depart the organization when his five year contract ends" couldn't possibly have been accompanied by the very brief summary of the very few "accomplishments" of a 4 year (to date) regime, but, instead, must be filled to overflowing with gross hyperbole without regard to the facts. Let's briefly summarize as we wish Howard every success..and soon.

When Steve Hoffman turned UJC's professional reins over to Howard Rieger, UJC was literally on the cusp of organizational success. Hoffman had developed a strong team of senior professionals who worked toward institutional success without regard to the "silos" that may have remained as obstacles in the minds of some. Lay leaders were functioning well together and the hopes for a succession of men and women of the next generation to lead the organization were strong. Relationships between UJC and JDC and JAFI were never better thanks to Hoffman's abilities to articulate support for these organizations by his deep engagement with them. Steve did not suffer fools lightly and he was possessed of strong opinions and never hesitated to articulate them -- often strongly; but, he also listened and understood that criticism could have value. He brought exemplary professional leadership to UJC.

At the time of the "transfer of power" from Steve to Howard Rieger, the Development area in which I was then particularly involved, had developed a set of strategies that were already playing out in NextGen programming, in a strong effort to partner with "emerging communities." and in the development of the "collaborative model." A Task Force Hoffman and Goldberg had engineered in response to the federation owners to develop resource development guidelines was working on its final report to attempt to bring discipline to national and international beneficiaries of our federation system. Within four years Rieger and Company had deep-sixed all of these programs without process or explanation. other than the "collaborative model" -- even then without crediting Vicki Agron or Cleveland's Berinthia Levine who collaboratively developed the concept. NextGen's premier effort -- Flyte -- would never have emerged had Agron not collaborated with the eminent philanthropist Jane Sherman and her family to assure its funding. (Agron was among the senior professional women forced out of UJC.) And Development was relegated to a minor function within UJC's hapless Rieger-driven "organizational structuring."

In spinning UJC's "accomplishments" under the now-retiring CEO, Howard is quoted with pride "...that a strategic planning process is being launched" this week. Hmmm, didn't the current Chairs, then aspiring to higher office, co-chair a "strategic planning process" in 2005-2006? What and where did that end up? Is this more of the same? And what kind of successor will it be who will agree in advance to be bound to " agreed-upon approach" that no one yet has seen?
Accomplishments -- there have been a few...too few...but Howard deserves his share of credit for them. But to state that "Rieger...spearheaded the $360 million Israel Emergency Campaign" is Emperor's New Clothes stuff. The IEC was a tremendous success -- it was the federations' success. It was the first Special Campaign in organizational history in which the national organization was but a by-stander. UJC did a great job cheer-leading and monitoring the expenditure of the federations' fund raising achievements, but it "spearheaded" nothing other than to end it too soon...while the terrorists' bombs continued to fall. Operation Promise might have been a success but it was spun out by UJC before it was ready... without the support of key federations and like everything else about UJC during these past few years, without even the priorities with which Rieger and most of the Large Cities had agreed -- until Rieger eliminated any semblance of the priorities without advance discussion. Operation Promise is a case study in what happens to a fund raising effort without a clear message. (Think it's over -- if you look at the UJC website, Operation Promise remains right there.)

Disaster Relief and the continued successes of the UJC Washington Office effort are surely accomplishments -- those mirrored the achievements or exceeded those of the predecessor organizations.

The meagre accomplishments have been offset by the lack of any capacity to understand criticism, an inability to listen, the elimination of tens of dedicated women professionals and support staff, secrecy and an ever-tightening Nixonian "enemies list," an ever-smaller "circle of trust" shutting out the owners from participation in the framing of decisions -- delivering UJC to a point of real crisis. The point it is at today. These are the deficits created by the current lay and professional leadership...and by the owners' acquiescence by silence.

Here we are, in the same week as Howard Rieger's announced intent to retire asked to reflect upon federations' Annual Campaign successes while Development/FRD has been so marginalized by the Rieger-Kanfer reorganization(s) that no matter the pressure placed on lay leaders to accept the positions, there is no National Campaign Chair and no Chair of the vaunted Center for Jewish Philanthropy. Friends who have written me about the recently completed Campaign Chairs/Campaign Directors Mission noted both the Herculean effort of the UJC staff ("two standing ovations" -- great) and the lack of a National Campaign Chair. UJC's terrific remaining professionals can have an impact...up to a point....and that point requires lay leaders as partners.

Without any consultation with the owners or with federation executives, the Board Chair didn't wait for the ink to dry on Rieger's retirement to appoint his Co-Chair to Search Committee Chair. (How's that for expanding leadership roles?) While Kathy Manning is a fine person, those who have partnered in the deconstruction of UJC, or stood by in silence as it was (and is) happening on their watch would hardly seem to be the best choice to lead this effort. The owners need to take charge of this process to give credibility to it. As the Search has been framed by the retiring CEO, his successor, as indicated above, will be expected to sign on to a strategic plan in advance, one in which he or she has had no input and with which he or she may or may not agree. It's the Land of Oz with no one behind the curtain.

Spin is everything. Spin, spin, spin around, all spin around...

Shabbat shalom,


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