Sunday, August 24, 2008


In a forthright and intriguing (as well as dismissive) Comment to my recent Post -- $500,000,000 and Counting -- a correspondent with nom de plume long time observer was extremely critical, suggesting that I evidence "increasingly occupying a fantasy land." The Comment was otherwise thoughtful and sufficiently analytical as to suggest that the writer could even reveal her/his identity without fear of public condemnation. I welcome the public criticism -- the Commentator joins 50-100 of you who write or call me privately after almost every Post to give me your opinions (and there are the others, who write me as follows: "As you know, I don't read your Blog, but your last Post was sent to me by others and I feel I should write -- sure). Our system would thrive were debate to occur in a more appropriate forum -- the very place where there is none.

Let's look at the facts -- while critics of the annual campaign constantly reference its "(decline) in constant dollars," the reality is that federation annual campaigns have grown by $300,000,000 in actual dollars since UJC was formed. Combined with the growth of federation endowments, the federations do "remain philanthropic leaders in the 21st century." The life blood of federations remains the annual campaign -- to dismiss it -- because of the "constant dollar" argument, the reality that the number of donors has reduced by 300,000 over the last 15 years, etc. -- and then to conclude that the "initiative in shaping the Jewish agenda has passed from federations to foundations and other, more dynamic organizations" suggests that this Commentator has already cast aside the federations as the central communal addresses and the central planning bodies for our communities. I haven't and won't and no UJC or federation lay or professional leader worthy of the title "leader" should either.

The mantra that UJC's "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.." rests on three false premises: (1) that "the old UJA" wasn't "truly focused on helping federations thrive;" (2) that the FRD structure within UJC resisted integration and (3) that UJC's current initiatives are "helping federations thrive." None of those conclusions are correct. Then, there is the familiar complaint that UJC was from the beginning afflicted with an excess of "process." Can anyone cite a single instance an initiative flowing from UJC leadership down has been denied them because of "process"? This argument, like that about the lack of integration, is but an excuse for UJC's failures and the consequent and escalating waste of federations' and donors' resources, nothing more.

I may be wrong, I often am; this Commentator with fake name may be wrong -- but these matters should be the subjects of debate that takes place within UJC, within its Board. The reason the "debate," if that's what it is, takes place here, is that it's not taking place there. And, under this deservedly insecure UJC leadership, never will.

And that's the real pity.



long time observer said...

I agree that the issues facing the federation system need earnest and thoughtful discussion. It is for this reason that it is dismaying to see so many of your posts take the form of ad hominem attacks on UJC's CEO, Board chair, and other top leadership. These add nothing to the debate.

I'd be happy to debate with you about what was done well and what wasn't in the aftermath of the merger. But, that's water over the dam. Far more important is where we go from here, and it's there that I think you are simply way off base.

What continues to escape me after reading the many and lengthy postings to this blog is what priorities you would like to see UJC pursue beyond returning us to the days when federations were all about the annual campaign and sending as much money to JAFI and JDC as possible. Don't get me wrong -- there was much to be proud of in those days (though anyone arguing that UJA was primarily concerned about the overall health and vitality of federations experienced a different UJA than I did). But, it's hard for me to believe that anyone who has been paying attention to what is happening in Jewish life today would argue that this is where the future of federations lies.

I am certainly not arguing for neglecting the annual campaign; it continues to play a vital role. Neither, I must add, is UJC, which continues to devote plenty of resources and staff time to that component of federations' overall development efforts. But, in my conversations with federation executives and lay leaders I hear an eagerness to embrace a more expansive vision of federation philanthropy that respects the growing desire of prospective donors to have more choices, a greater say in where their resources are invested, and to feel personally connected to and through their giving. It's not an either-or, and UJC's creation of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy and development of large-scale thematic initiatives merely takes up on the national level what many local federations are already doing. Happily, many of the communities that have introduced new approaches to fundraising have found that the annual campaign benefits as well.

Richard, I don't doubt that you're sincere. I just think that the evidence is strongly against you and that what you're proposing for UJC is neither good for nor desired by the federations. You complain constantly about lack of consultation, but I would suggest that you go out and talk to federation leaders about what they see as vital for the movement's future. You might also read the very thoughtful papers that were prepared by federation professionals for the think tank that UJC convened last year.

And, above all, please drop the personal attacks. They're unbecoming and irrelevant, if what you truly are concerned about is the issues. It's simply untrue that the current UJC leadership is "isolated" or "out of touch," and repeatedly saying so and impugning their motives doesn't make it so.

So, indeed, let's discuss the future of federations and how UJC can best contribute to it. Leave the rest behind.

RWEX said...

Dear "LTO" (I hope you don't mind my using your nickname):

I would welcome a debate with you not only about the past, but the present and future of our national system. (I fear that a public debate might be off-putting to some, as your apparent need for anonymity might require you to wear a bag over your head, but, even so, I sense that I know you and, if I'm right, I know you would prevail.)

Let's try to dispose of one matter at the outset. I would hope you would reconsider your accusation that "...many of (my) Posts take the form of ad hominem attacks on UJC's CEO, Board Chair, and other top leadership." I understand an ad hominem argument to be one based on personal considerations as opposed to reason. I have written frequently that this small coterie of leaders have so confused their ideas, their programs, their "vision" with those of the federation owners as to interpret any criticism of UJC as a criticism of THEM. I have no personal animus toward this leadership (as opposed to their often strident, venal responses -- calling me a "liar," for example, in lieu of a logical response may be the best/worst example of the ad hominem attack.)

LTO, if all you have concluded from this Blog is that I have solely a desire to return to the halcyon days of yore, then I am a more miserable writer than even you give me discredit for. You know, because you have written that you were close to the merger if not part of it, what the Vision was for UJC; what goals were set forth for this new entity. I won't rewrite them here, they appear often in past Posts, but for these --to increase federation resources and donors and to provide increased resources to the Jewsih Agency and JDC. As a Co-Chair of the original FRD Task Force at the outset of UJC and, then, as a Co-chair of the UJC FRD Study Committee, those who served with me well know that I am a deep believer in not only the vitality and criticality of the Annual Campaign but, with you, an advocate for expanding federation resources through endowment development, attracting the Next Generation, the collaborative Model and beyond. Unlike you, LTO, and the current leadership of UJC, I don't reject any of these "portals of entry" but, instead, embrace them all.

All of the hard data evidence...all of the data... that a community can only build its resources on the bedrock of a strong annual campaign. UJC leaders (and you) ignore the data because they don't support their and your pre-formed conclusions. Your conclusion that UJC is dedicating "plenty of resources and staff time" to the bedrock Development would only be true if your definition of "plenty" is "less than half" of what it was and should be.

And, LTO, trust me, I do speak with federation lay and professional leaders constantly. A tiny sampling: Even those who are the most critical of this Blog admit, as one CEO said to me, two weeks ago that UJC leadership " a catastrophe." Another terrific federation professional leader wrote me yesterday, expressing "...with sadness...I report from my knowledge and experience, your observations are all too accurate and on the mark." Another terrific leader wrote me to express that leader's concern that the UJC Search and Nominating processes "will be manipulated" as have all others by this leadership. Neither I nor these leaders are looking for validation, LTO; no, we are looking for change before this leadership takes the system down with them while patting themselves on the back.

You suggest that I educate myself by reading "...the very thoughtful papers that were prepared by federation professionals for the think tank that UJC convened last year." I'd love to; send them to me and I will faithfully reprint them in toto in these pages. In the meantime, please understand that, to my knowledge, UJC has not shared these papers with its Board just as it completely revised the Large City Executives 2008 Report "Refining UJC's Vision" before issuing their own mini-version, totally redacted and revised under the same title.

Everyone agrees, we need a strong, vital national address. We...all of us...have a choice, we can support the failed policies to which this UJC administration is inextricably tied, or we can plot a course for the future that will fulfill our dreams for UJC in vivid ways. Unfortunately, at least to this "long time participant," we can't have both. As my correspondent concluded yesterday: "Perhaps it is time for a new system to be born and nurtured by people who care" about the federations and our People's dreams and needs.

On behalf of all those who read these pages, whether we agree or disagree, thanks for taking the time to write.

long time observer said...

I'll leave it to regular readers of this blog to judge whether your attacks on UJC's current leaders are based on "reason" or something else. I just see repeated accusations and attributed motivations without any evidence.

More important, I’m still trying to figure out what your vision and priorities for UJC are. You say that you’re “an advocate for expanding federation resources through endowment development, attracting the Next Generation, the collaborative Model and beyond.” Well, this is exactly what the current leadership is seeking to do. Where’s your beef? You complain on the one hand that not enough is being invested in the annual campaign, and on the other that UJC’s budget – after the current leadership made substantial cuts, which you also criticized – is bloated. We’ve all seen plenty of this from Washington: cut the budget, but not, of course, my favorite programs! Do you want to cut the Mandel Center? The Washington office? Support to the federations to help them implement the collaborative model and benchmarking to improve performance? Rebranding that is critical if federations are to escape the spiral of seeking more and more money from fewer and fewer donors? I think it’s pretty clear from your posts that you do want a return to the old days – that seems to be your constant theme. You certainly haven’t proposed anything new.

It’s clear to me that you and I read both the past and the present very differently. You attack the current leadership because they are making changes that you lament. I believe those changes are absolutely necessary if UJC and the federations are to thrive going forward. You applaud the fact that the old campaign/FRD structure of UJA was able to operate largely autonomously of the rest of UJC in the years following the merger. I believe it was a terrible missed opportunity that is now, happily, being rectified.

(Note for those who wonder what I am talking about: As you will undoubtedly recall, UJC was created with four “pillars”: Campaign/financial resource development, Israel and overseas, human services and social policy, and Jewish renaissance and renewal. In fact, the last two pillars at least were “siloed off” from campaign/FRD almost from the beginning. Key constituency groups – Women’s philanthropy, the Young Leadership Cabinets – and key activities – missions, Washington conferences, retreats – remained within the province of campaign/FRD. The other pillars had little if any connection to these, nor to the large marketing and communications apparatus allied with the FRD function. The praiseworthy effort of Charles Bronfman and Joel Tauber to bring all the components of UJC together to pursue a few, carefully chosen “big ideas” was not sustained. And this, together with the demise of the Trust for Jewish Philanthropy, meant that UJC went for years without putting forward any bold new initiatives to rally a new generation of activists and philanthropists. This is now being changed as the original promise of the merger to create a truly integrated organization is finally being fulfilled.)

I do hope that readers of this blog will not be misled into believing that UJC is in some type of terminal disarray. In fact, it is in the midst of a much-needed and welcome rebuilding. Successful new initiatives, like the recent I-LEAD professional development program, are being implemented. Nothing vital, and certainly not the annual campaign, is being thrown away. But, tough decisions are being made and directions for the future being set. That’s healthy change, and it’s the product of leaders who are hardly insecure nor arrogant, just a lot more clear-sighted about where the federation system stands and what it needs than I believe you are.

I honor your service to the system, Richard. I wish you could honor those who have come after you with some respect for their commitment, their sincerity, and their efforts to build on the legacy that you have left. Unless there’s something new to add, I have to get back to work. (BTW, since this is not a personal duel between us, I thought that my screen name said what was important: that I’ve been around this system a long time and care deeply about it, but I’m not a UJCer.)

RWEX said...

Dear LTO,

This exchange has been helpful to me in the sense that it has clarified the gulf between those who believe the current leadership has made great strides -- a leadership where "tough decisions are being made and directions for the future being set," as you have put it -- and my view, shared by others, that UJC has been placed in such a state of disarray that the enterprise itself is at risk. (Later today, I will post an example of "Institutional Insanity.")

Your version of UJC's history is more than a bit askew. In its first year, then FRD leadership withdrew FRD's role as a Pillar in the interests of a seamless organization choosing instead to position the FRD effort as essentially a service "bureau" to the other areas/Pillars of UJC -- and so it was until it was deconstructed last year. What I want is to see the federations engage in real debate about UJC's priorities, matching federations' needs against UJC's self-determined goals -- and see what emerges and how much money is really needed to support the national effort. And, unlike you, I don't believe that the federations will benefit a whit from a "rebranding" effort.

And, unfortunately, to make your arguments, you choose to misinterpret mine. I applaud change, but not change for its own sake, not change dictated by the unknowing, not change that is mandated without prior debate and discussion.I am against a leadership style that operates a closed shop premising change only on the "vision" of a very few, often just two. The only part of the "old days" I want to return to are the days of a national leadership engaged with the federations and our donors, a time of charismatic leaders of integrity who know their role to be to implement the federations' and our donors' dreams and goals -- something wrong with that?

Were you, LTO, "a UJCer," I would have a much greater hope for the present and future. I am sorry you are not.

long time observer said...

The URL for the papers I referred to, collected under the title Creating the Architecture for Change, is

I think you'll find that although they are certainly not all of one mind, they do reflect a readiness and desire for serious change in how federations operate and engage the community. As you know, in my view, this is precisely what UJC today is and should be trying to support and enhance.