Thursday, August 21, 2008

$500,000,000 ... AND COUNTING

So, by my figuring, and math was never my strong suit, UJC has spent $500 million of federation dues.. ONE-HALF BILLION of our Donors' DOLLARS -- in its brief history. To my great regret, I look around and conclude that so much of that incredible amount has been just...plain...wasted. I despair thinking about how so much of that $500 million could have been used to make the lives of those of our People most in need better; about how UJC's leaders keep demanding that we trust them while failing, time and time and time again, to deliver on that trust.

Let's call UJC what it is -- a failed experiment -- and let's call it's current iteration "over." It can only be restarted with new lay and professional leaders at the top to realize upon what we had hoped it would be -- a place where best practices emerge, where the best and brightest in our federation system would find a home, a place of open debate and inclusivity at all levels, and where $500 million would be spent on federation wants and needs not wasted on the whims of a few leaders...a very few...some of whose whims seemingly change day-by-day. We need a place of accountability -- not alone accountability to our donors and federation owners but accountability to those of our People most in need who rely on us every hour of every day. We have none of this today.

I, and anyone else who has criticized this leadership's policies and management practices, has been accused of not supporting UJC, in their words "...undermining UJC." I have responded as you would expect: "I totally support what we intended UJC to be. What I can't support is what you are doing to UJC." The problem is that this leadership -- and this leadership alone --can't tell the difference.

The current Board Chair treats UJC as if it were a subsidiary of his family-owned business -- not a federation-owned philanthropic enterprise; the CEO is buffeted not just by this Blog, but by the constantly changing demands of the Chair (with no process and little thought) and actions the CEO himself has taken with no process -- either relying on his presumed support from a few Large City Executives or his belief that what he decides is in the best interests of the system. The result is the deconstruction I have addressed. Not all collective wisdom is within the grasp of the four or five leaders who are sometimes consulted, but not always, on UJC's ever-changing plans. The result is chaotic -- and more and more federations are going their own way.

Examples of how UJC, its leaders living in the bubble that protects them from the real federation world, has ignored the federations abound. Let me cite one glaring area that says it all. While Steve Hoffman was CEO, UJC would annually survey the federations -- kind of a "how are we doing" and "what can we do better" survey conducted by a respected Rochester, N.Y. research firm. The results over three years were pretty uniform -- the vast majority of respondents cited UJC's work in the Development area received the highest marks and the federations requested more help in the annual campaign are -- that is those federations outside of the Largest 19. When this group took office, our Chair announced publicly that UJC should no more engage with the annual campaigns -- the federations needs and wants be damned. The CEO, playing the good soldier, began his dismantling of the UJC Annual Campaign infrastructure. There was no federation ask for this marginalization/vaporization of the Annual Campaign, there was no research to support the shifting of millions of dollars to unproductive areas or that UJC focus on grand schemes/"big ideas" for Supplemental Campaigns. But onward UJC marched to the sound of its own drummers and the applause of the few leaders allowed within its circle of trust. Federations received no further annual campaign assistance, UJC's focus shifted to an unfocused "Organizational Strategy" filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing...nothing, except the expenditure of another $117 million in budget, more or less.

Yet, if you study UJC's successes, other than the Washington Office, they are Development/Campaign driven-activities -- the collaborative model (which has now been coopted by the consulting area) and events in the Development area -- the Lion Of Judah Conferences, the Young Leadership Cabinet Retreats, last year's Prime Minister's Mission, the Campaign Chairs/Campaign Directors Missions, etc., etc. This leadership is unable to connect the dots -- never has, ever will.

These leaders truly believe that a letter "asking" for more dollars for multiple asks is all it should take; that the reluctant creation of a Georgian-Russian Crisis Mailbox requires no advocacy for filling it (or that it's "someone else's "problem"); that "engagement" with federations means visiting them to advocate for UJC's budgets and to plead for "trust;" that e-mails to potential Registrants will create a full house for the 2008 Jerusalem GA (which is currently looking at a huge attendance and cash deficit); and on and on. By pushing away so many lay leaders from any sense of (let alone real) engagement, UJC has no one to call upon to visit federations, interact with fellow lay leaders, transmit the message (were there one). The l'etat c'est moi attitude has helped to deconstruct the organization.UJC was created to be the national address of its owners, the Jewish Federations of North America. Over the past 4 years, it has become, instead, the captive of an incredibly small group of insiders.

Yep, $500,000,000...$500,000,000!!!... and counting. And, what do the federations have to show for it?

Have a Shabbat shalom.


1 comment:

long time observer said...

I fear that this blog is increasingly occupying a fantasy-land not visible to the rest of us. Every objective researcher I am aware of, and a large number of leaders within the federation system, agree that federations must move beyond a disproportionate reliance on the annual campaign in order to remain philanthropic leaders in the 21st century. The numbers do not lie: the annual campaign has been declining in constant dollars for years; the overall number of donors is decreasing and their age growing older; endowments and other special philanthropic vehicles are the fastest growing component of federation fundraising; initiative in shaping the Jewish agenda has passed from federations to foundations and other, more dynamic organizations.

As someone close to UJC and its original components since long before the merger, I firmly believe that its current problems are the result of waiting far too long to dismantle and integrate the old UJA fundraising apparatus into an organization truly focused on helping federations thrive in a radically altered environment. Everyone knows that making far-reaching changes is difficult and de-stabilizing, but that failing to do so (ask GM) is ultimately disastrous. Unfortunately, our system was too fragmented and, yes, too enamored of "process," to bite the bullet and make the necessary changes when the opportunity existed at the time of the merger. UJC is paying the price today (as are many of the federations themselves, I would argue). This is no one's fault; it's just a missed opportunity.

But, today's UJC leadership is at least facing up to the facts and trying to move it and the federations in a different direction. We don't know yet where there road will lead -- there are huge hurdles to overcome. But yours leads nowhere except back to a past that is gone and cannot be recovered.