Friday, September 12, 2008

"FUNDERMENTALLY" WRONG

As I have noted in past Posts, I have enjoyed JTA's Jacob Berkman's Blog, The Fundermentalist. Yet, from time-to-time, Berkman, like all of us, gets it wrong. This was the case last week in his JTA Post -- Outgoing UJC head faces tough task with overseas partners. That Post, if you didn't read it, states that Howard Rieger "...plans to play the heavy during the next dozen months as he works hard to make sure that the relationship between UJC and the network of North American Jewish federations becomes fully functional." Berkman, obviously sourced by Rieger among others, points the finger at JDC and JAFI leaders as the font of a significant part of the "dysfunctionality" that exists. Wrong...very wrong. Dysfunctional is a one word synonym for UJC today; to even suggest that UJC's curent lay and professional leaders are the ones who can make our system fully funtional is to totally misread cause and effect.

What's the problem? Well, the facts are simple: over the years of UJC's existence the core allocations to the Jewish Agency and JDC have dropped in both real dollars and in percentage. While federation annual campaigns in the aggregate have increased by $300,000,000 over UJC's life, core allocations have dropped by almost $100,000,000 (not including the incredible $362 million raised in the Israel Emergency Campaign which represented pass-through dollars for which JDC and JAFI were the agents). Had core allocations even remained constant, forget about increasing by the same percentage as did the aggregate annual campaigns -- close to 30% -- the battle for additional funding would have been mitigated, even maintaining the agreed upon "split" of 75% JAFI, 25% JDC.

During the period of greatest core allocation decline, the same President and CEO of UJC was in office, doing nothing, saying nothing -- the same CEO who Berkman supposes will now bring "order out of chaos" while sitting in the lame duck chair created when he announced he would leave his position at the end of his contract. The precipitous drop in allocations occured while the current UJC Board Chair sat on his hands preoccupied with...what exactly -- organizational strategies, personal vendettas? It was shocking to read that this Chair suggested to Berkman, an excellent reporter, and Berkman reported as fact that but for UJC's intervention, JAFI and JDC would have incurred $60 million in overlap and duplication in IEC programs and expenditures. UJC allegedly "saved" our system $60 million [a] a number without any factual support...none and [b] totally... totally...unsupported by the facts. This allegation from UJC which still can't find where $10's of millions of funds raised by the federations in the IEC were spent. Such is our UJC, such is our leadership, today.

But, it's even worse. JDC and JAFI are engaged in a mediation today with regard to, among other things, the amount of the organizations' respective financial support of the Ethiopian National Project. UJC is the mediator and has appointed, no surprise here, the ubiquitous Kathy Manning, to convene the mediation. In the midst of the mediation and preemptive of it, Rieger sent out his request to Federation Executives for $5 million for the ENP almost one month ago. Who authorized this ask? Who quantified it? Not the UJC Board or Executive. (See, Institutional Insanity Post.) And what's the real impact of this Rieger "ask" on UJC letterhead? Simple: UJC has disqualified itself as the "honest broker" as between JAFI and JDC. (The Fundermentalist must not have been aware of the mediation.) So, just how, exactly, will Howard bring JAFI and JDC together -- certainly not through moral suasion as Rieger ceded that posture in his pursuit of more dollars for the ENP. And Kanfer has ceded UJC's moral authority in his ridiculous, unsupported allegations with regard to the work of JAFI and JDC in the IEC.

It is ever more evident that it is long past time for the UJC CEO and the Board Chair to take early retirement. Let's bring in an Interim CEO with the moral authority, respected by federations, JAFI and JDC alike, and partner that professional with a new Board Chair of integrity and passion who understands the federations and let's begin a new era for our system. The Fundermentalist has unknowingly pointed out how bankrupt UJC and its leadership are. Thanks Fundermentalist for being fundermentally wrong but, oh, so fundermentally right.

Shabbat shalom.

Rwexler

12 comments:

long time observer said...

Aside from the usual fulminations about the CEO and Board Chair, this posting leaves out one important fact: local federations determine how much of the funds they raise go to "overseas needs" and how much to other purposes. UJC cannot manufacture money to go to JAFI and JDC if the federations do not allocate it. It's ironic that you complain about a lack of advocacy for overseas needs, and then turn around and condemn Howard Rieger when he seeks more funding from federations for the ENP. (Also ironic that you complain about a lack of support for the annual campaign and then tout the $300,000,000 increase achieved during UJC's existence.)

Let's be honest: You don't like the present leadership, and regardless of what they do - cut UJC's budget, seek additional funding for the ENP or IAI, try to bring JAFI and JDC into greater alignment, or the host of positive things that UJC has done - you will criticize them.

Those who still read this blog deserve to know that your versions of events - whether the original merger or what is happening in federations today - are self-serving and inaccurate. You like the JTA when it supports your views, but when it tells it differently, then you're not so happy. Journalists do sometimes get it wrong, but at least they try to get it right. I see no evidence in your columns that you even try.

RWEX said...

Dear LTO,

Thanks for writing. Of course, you are correct, UJC doesn't allocate funds, the federations do. What UJC is obligated to do, among the many things which it is not doing -- advocate for increased resources for those of our People most in need -- it refuses to do under this "leadership." If you cannot see the difference between advocacy for "...more funding from federations for the ENP" without authorization from UJC and advocacy for more core funding for JAFI/JDC, part of UJC's mandate from the outset, then I question what exactly you've been "observing" over these past few years. If you believe that my observation about the lack of annual campaign support from UJC is somehow mitigated by the impressive aggregate increases in federation annual campaigns, you seem to have lost the logic so evident in your earlier Comments.

This leadership has deconstructed UJC, driven it from its Mission, acted unilaterally, involved fewer and fewer federation leaders in its work, and demonstarted no connection to the passion, timeless principles and core values that are the bedrock of our federation system. I don't like THAT reality.

What I express on these pages are my opinions, but as I only wish UJC to succeed on the mission and with the vision for which it was created, I doubt you could find anything "self-serving" about them. These UJC leaders have tried to stifle dissent whereever they have heard them; sorry you've chosen to join them with typical allegations of "inaccuracies" or misrepresentation of the purposes of the merger.

long time observer said...

Richard, it would be generous to say that your version of UJC's "mission" is at best partial. Strengthening federations, Jewish communities, and the Jewish people -- which is UJC's mission -- does not equate with simply sending more "core funding" to JAFI and JDC. To assert so confuses one possible strategy -- and evidently not one that the federations themselves have chosen to prioritize -- with the goal itself.

This is precisely the point I've tried to make and that you steadfastly refuse to acknowledge: we live today in a diverse and changing Jewish world (and world generally). I have no desire to disparage JDC or JAFI, nor are they beyond critique. They do some wonderful work -- as do a host of local agencies, national organizations, and new entries on the Jewish organizational scene. All of these entities and the people they serve need and deserve more support, and this is the great challenge that federations by their nature must deal with.

Believe me, I empathize with my federation colleagues who must struggle both to expand the pot in an era when donors increasingly seek more personalized philanthropy and to allocate limited dollars across a range of equally compelling needs and opportunities. I've served on allocations committees, so I know how difficult those decisions are. And, I've also worked to raise more money, and understand that to do so effectively, we must offer prospective donors multiple opportunities to support the full range of causes they care deeply about.

I see UJC trying to help federations meet this challenge. Were it to adopt your version of its "mission," it would rapidly become useless and irrelevant.

Despite all your protestations, you are a one-note musician who is vainly trying to recreate a past that even the leaders of JAFI and JDC know will not be resurrected.

As I've said before, UJC is far from perfect -- we all are, as we are reminded in this season -- and thoughtful criticism is both appropriate and helpful. But, endless fuming because the leaders of UJC have rightly rejected your vision for it is not criticism; it's just complaining. The federations, not just UJC, have moved beyond you. And no amount of disparagement and accusation will change that.

RWEX said...

Dear LTO,

I am pleased to end our exchange by accepting your latest allegation -- that my"version" of UJC's mision may only be "partial." How could it be anything else given that this leadership has diverted UJC from its "mission" without debate, without process and without Vission. But I won't accept that my focus is so narrow as you would accuse -- the failure to advocate for greater resources for JAFI/JDC and ORT is but a symptom of the matastacized disease that afflicts UJC today; to fail to understand that it to misunderstand all.

In today's New York Times, it is reported that Sarah Palin's gubernatorial assistant called a critical Blogger in Alaska and yelled: "Stop blogging. Stop blogging right now!" That's what I have heard from LTO, on reflection, from the beginning. Sorry.

Rwexler

long time observer said...

Richard, I'm not asking you to stop blogging. I'm just trying to ensure that readers have an opportunity to see that your version of reality is frequently distorted. If you can leave behind the constant personal attacks on UJC's leaders and focus on genuine issues, then your blog might even be useful in stimulating worthwhile discussions. As strongly as I disagree with your views on how federations should be focusing their energies today and on what UJC should be doing to help them continue to lead in the 21st century, that is a legitimate substantive discussion. Name calling and overblown rhetoric about "diseases" afflicting UJC is just what we used to call "flaming." That's of no value to anyone.

RWEX said...

Dear LTO,

I have explaained on more than one occasion thattoday's UJC leaders have so personalized and appropriated UJC plans, programs and policies (as so evident in Rieger's ENP request of Federations) that it is impossible to separate those leaders from UJC itself. When they are gone, succeeded by those men and women who will lead UJC forward with the feedrations and our donors, this commetary will likewise change.

In your recent corrspondence you have ignored the substance of my Post. I am sorry about that.

Regards,

long time observer said...

Richard, exactly what is the substance of your post? I've already dealt with the issue of declining allocations to JAFI and JDC. These are clearly the result of the combination of financial pressures on federations and a growing desire on the part of many to allocate more dollars to other worthy recipients - including specific overseas projects they have developed and choose to support. These trends began before the merger, and, thus far, no UJC leader nor process (i.e., ONAD) has been able to change this long-term trend appreciably. To imply that if UJC only advocated more, the funds would flow is both silly and disingenuous.

In fact, though you accuse UJC of abandoning its advocacy role, I see no evidence supporting your accusation. Who was featured at the recent Prime Minister's Council meetings in NY? JAFI and JDC. Whose projects will be highlighted in three-quarters of the day-long field visits that will take place at the GA in Jerusalem? JAFI's and JDC's. Your entire litany of complaints is based on nothing.

As far as efforts by UJC to encourage greater coordination and collaboration between JAFI and JDC are concerned, one would have to have lived on another planet for the last quarter century not to know that tension between these agencies exists. This doesn't mean that they are "evil," or that they never work together. They do. But, not always, or at least not to the extent that they could. Part of the reason is simmering unhappiness over "the split." Part is due to occasional operational tensions on the ground. Part is due to drawing on different leadership pools. And, part is due to the organizations having very different cultures, missions, and governance structures. Anyone who has been around the federation world knows all this.

UJC and its predecessors have sought to mitigate tensions and encourage more collaboration between JAFI and JDC for years. There's nothing at all new in this. So, why do you act so surprised that Howard would try to devote some of his energy in his last year to trying to bring the federations, JAFI, and JDC into closer alignment? Declining allocations (and more recently, the falling dollar) make such alignment more needed than ever.

I have no idea whether Howard will succeed. Perhaps not. But, why fault him for making the effort?

Perhaps you've forgotten that one of the major reasons for the merger was the desire of federations to have a greater say in how overseas allocations were spent. This is still a legitimate goal, and greater success in this arena and in ensuring federations and donors that the two major recipients, JAFI and JDC, really are working in concert might even result in more funds flowing to these organizations.

So, you may be "shocked, shocked" that UJC would try to bring more harmony to the JAFI-JDC relationship and can point to some success in achieving greater coordination and efficiency in the allocation of IEC funds. (What's your evidence that $60 million was not saved? I don't see any in your post.) However, there's no reason for the rest of us to be either surprised or upset. In fact, as a federation donor, I'm glad that they're doing their job.

RWEX said...

long time observer,

Please don't write anonymously and accuse me of, among other things, "disingenuity" and "in personam" attacks, then engage in misrepresenting the merger purposes, UJC's activities and actions, all to make what point exactly?

Some examples in your most recent "Comment:"

~ That UJC's extensive advocacy is exemplified in the recent JAFI and JDC presentations to the Prime Minister's Council "meetings" (to about 75 participants) and the planned GA field visits. I presume, though I shouldn't, that even you as an UJC insider can distinguish between real advocacy with the federations and "event advocacy." But, maybe you can't.

~ You "Comment" as if I reject the need for greater JAFI/JDC coordination. That conclusion is ridiculous -- what I wrote is that UJC by its leadership's preemptive, unauthorized actions vis-a-vis the ENP and allegationns of UJC intervention saving $60 million in duplication and waste has disqualified itself as an honest broker in that process of "...bring(ing) federations, JAFI and JDC into closer alignment." The UJC "effort" (and your unreasoned support for it) is the best/worst example of disingenuity.

~ Finally, as you now engage in the "when did you stop beating your wife" specious demand -- I have to provide you "evidence that
$60 million was not saved" --suggests that some of those who have written me to express their outrage with your Comments are right. You are part of the very inside leadership that has brought UJC to this point.

Best of luck.

long time observer said...

A. You still haven't provided any evidence to support your accusations.

B. I am not a "UJC insider." I have no role in UJC, JAFI, or JDC. I just know what I see, and I don't like seeing good people continuously impugned for trying to do their jobs and help the federation system succeed.

repjew-order said...

Speaking of fundamental wrongness, and you avoiding sacred cows -- like that your own federation in Chicago are the strongest supporters in the system of Rieger and UJC -- why no mention of this piece by your pet Berkman?

Jewish non-profits in Chi-town pay top dollars to top execs

The CEOs and other top professionals at several Chicagoland Jewish organizations ranked near the top of a list of 2007 compensation packages that the business publication [Crain's Chicago] made public in August.

Steven Nasatir of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago was slotted 10th ($565,116).

On the list of mid-level executives, several of Nasatir’s lieutenants at the Chicago federation ranked high:

Michael Kotzin, the executive vice president was second on the second-tier list ($578,777)*, and Michael Tarnoff, another executive vice president, ranked 11th ($429,638).


http://blogs.jta.org/philanthropy/2008/09/09/519/jewish-non-profits-in-chi-town-pay-top-dollars-to-top-execs/

Danny said...

Interesting conversation between Richard and long time observer. To bad others won't join in the conversation.

paul said...

No one should have the privilege of responding without having the menschlekite of giving one's name. Who the person is, and what s/he has done, helps to give a fuller picture to what is written.

So, 'long-time-observer', tell us who you are so we can really evaluate your remarks.

paul jeser