Wednesday, October 29, 2008
As the readers of this Blog know well, I have written time and again of UJC's uncoordinated (and sometimes unauthorized), multiple "asks" of our federations, time and again since its budget was reduced by $3.2 million. The result of the evident lack of priorities in all that UJC has done or not done under the current leadership has been that none of the "asks" have produced much in the way of federation interest. And, we are not referring to trivialities here -- funding a broad Coalition effort to fight Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapon capability, funding the Ethiopian National Project, funding emergency relief arising out of the Russia-Georgia conflict, and, now, disaster relief to federations significantly impacted by Hurricane Ike. This tiny group of what passes for UJC leadership today has had more "narratives" with less shame than the McCain Campaign.
Here's how this leadership operates: it either sends out a letter to Federation Executives (and, sometimes, Chairs as well) or it opens a Mailbox -- and, that's it!! Or, maybe, if it's important to him, maybe a mention in a Howard's View. The results -- well, as you would expect. In connection with the Mailbox to aid JAFI and JDC for their heroic efforts in response to the Georgia-Russia Conflict, at last report, $22,000 has been raised through this Mailbox (excluding Chicago which allocated $160,000 directly) of a $1.6 million need. Have you seen or read or heard anything about that Mailbox since it was opened? And, as to Hurricane Ike relief....well, that's the worst, the specific subject of this Post. the example of the depths to which this iteration of our national system has fallen. It is time for this leadership to go. It is past time.
On October 23, The Fundermentalist Blog posted an article worthy of a JTA story -- Post-hurricane woes continue in Houston -- and it could get worse. "In total only $50,000 has been raised through a mailbox UJC set up, and right now it seems like no one will be able to pay the reconstruction bill," the author, Jacob Berkman, reported. Discussing the efforts undedrtaken by the Houston federation for itself and the devastated Galveston Jewish community, Houston's incredible CEO, Lee Wunsch, stated that "...the call he and ... United Jewish Communities put out to the national Jewish community immediately after the hurricane struck has gone largely unanswered."
All of us know that the one highlight of UJC under the current leadership was its response to Hurricane Katrina -- Rieger has repeated this so often it has become his mantra. (As his ship sinks he will be heard to mutter "Katrina...we did great for Katrina...Katrina.") Shouldn't Houston have expected a parallel effort...something more than opening a Mailbox and "surveying the situation?" That's our UJC today -- open a Mailbox, send a letter...and move on. "We did our job, we sent a letter out. If no one responds, that's the federations' fault, not ours." I just read UJC's Leadership Briefing last Friday -- UJC Tackling the Economic Crisis. Still "developing contingency plans," congratulating New York on the relative success of its Greenberg Event and offering template letters to donors, calls to campaign chairs and the like months after it should have been mobilizing all of its efforts...too little too late as has been the case everywhere and in everything but in its response to Katrina. If Katrina represented UJC at its best, Ike and the "response" to the world economic crisis are UJC at its leaderless worst.
This Post, like its predecessors, isn't addressed to UJC's "leaders;" there's no one home there. It is addressed to you, the federations, UJC's owners. What do we, you, get for your $37 million dollars? What do you, we, get for our dues? We have the reverse of a federal bail-out; we, the federations, have been bailing out UJC for the past 4+ years. Isn't it past time for a change? Past time for a change?
Monday, October 27, 2008
In the Budget process for 2006 the Board Chair and CEO demanded a $1.5 million Budget increase over 2005. They could not or would not explain on what the budget increase would be spent; they just wanted it...period. (In fact, the Board Chair was heard to tell his few confidants that if "he" didn't get the increase, he would "just go back to Akron and play with his grand children" or something like that.) The Budget and Finance Committee agreed to recommend the increase subject to the condition that the Chair and CEO return to the Committee for approval of the $1.5 million expenditure. These "leaders" reluctantly agreed. I was the only "no" vote on writing this blank check -- something that would never occur in Chicago or Washington (the home federation of the UJC Budget and Finance Chair) or in any federation in which any of you have a leadership role -- this vote would contribute significantly to my eventual "Wexlerization."
And, then, what happened? Later in 2006 the "leaders" returned with a request to spend $845,000 (!!) on a "marketing and branding research project." Maybe the "leaders" came to your community with a plea for support as they came to Chicago -- promising leadership here that returning to the "UJA" brand would have their support. (I had the sense that they would promise anything anywhere.) The "research project" expenditure was approved; the chosen consultant (which appeared to be sole-sourced) made its pitch to the Executive Committee based on, among other things, that one of its principals was Jewish and their success in marketing the Air Force!! ("If we could successfully market the Air Force with which we had no previous experience, we can certainly market Jewish Federations." Uh-huh.) By the way, have you seen the research report? Been interviewed? But, never mind, the $845,000 expenditure of $1.5 million was approved and, no doubt, the research is "in progress" to be rolled out at a February 2009 Retreat...along with everything else.
Now comes the question: what ever happened to the remaining $655,000 of the $1,500,000 Budget and federations' dues increase? I may be wrong, but the expenditure of these funds was never brought back to the UJC Budget and Finance Committee for expenditure approval. Never brought to the Executive Committee for approval. It appears to have just been spent in open breach of UJC's own resolution. If I am correct, friends, it is beyond chutzpah, it is an indefensible act of irresponsibility that would never be tolerated in any properly administered not-for-profit. If I am wrong, I am certain someone will let me know when this $655,000 was specifically vetted, the program(s) on which it was spent and the date(s) of approval. If, as I suspect has been the case, UJC just spent the additional $655,000 (perhaps to prop up UJC executives' salaries) with no prior approval, UJC "leaders" did so just because they could -- because there is no external accountability. There is the attitude that "we can do what we want when we want and how we want." And that is the federation owners' fault. There was greater accountability on the part of the predecessor organizations -- even though UJA was not owned by the federations -- than these "leaders" exhibit. There seems to be no comprehension after four years of this leadership that this money is not theirs, it is the federations and our donors.
So, someone show us how this $655,000 was approved for expenditure and how it was spent. Someone? Anyone? No one?
Saturday, October 25, 2008
First the gleeful announcement that "...more than 4,000 professionals and lay leaders of all ages..are convening" for the GA, the International Lion Of Judah (and, unmentioned, the over 500 registered for the Jewish Agency Assembly). So, assuming no double-counting (like not counting a Lion who is also attending the GA twice and not counting those registered for the JAFI Assembly only), I am going to offer, with all of us, a mazel tov. With you I am going to expect no GA deficit. None. Inasmuch as the most recent attendance announced to the UJC Executive was 1,800, and a deficit estimated at $500,000 this new total is really astounding...and great! But, my cynicism tells me that the same person who announces that 12,000 are attending McCain Rallies when only 1200 are present is counting the attendees for this GA.
Then there is the UJC "Economic Crisis Response." UJC has been so late to the starting line here as to raise legitimate questions of their leadership credibility...but they are there now "marshaling (sic) areas across UJC to address the crisis" according to the View. Howard even invites our attention to "a robust Web resource (at www.ujc.org/economy) that features the best our system has to offer on the crisis..." So, I went to the link (which included links to a number of good articles -- but not Jeff Solomon's cautionary piece nine...9... months ago -- and was referred to another link to "... read about UJC's efforts" which takes the reader to, drum roll please, last Friday's Briefing -- UJC Tackling the Economic Crisis. (If you read that piece, other than the Washington Office's work, it was like the Seinfeld show, about nothing.)
But, there is some good buried in the link -- another link, this time to an UJC "economic resource area" on the "UJC interoffice site." It's got some good stuff in it and the potential for more but you can access it only if you are a "federation professional and affiliated lay leaders." Therein, for example, is a list of speakers on or to the economic crisis who. other than UJC or federation professionals and a few academics, all charge a fee -- "yes, for $3000, plus expenses, I will tell you the pain you're feeling from this economic crisis." But, dig through and you will find the beginning of a UJC effort in response to this crisis that has been and is upon us...all of us.
One more thing: within the "economic resource area," UJC offers a list of steps for federations to deal with the crisis including directing federations to tighten their belts and reduce costs. Hello?? And, UJC, what about you? Is this another do as I say, not as I do? Is this not the ultimate chutzpah? Howard writes that "[W]e are also working for our system's future" -- best to focus right now...right now...on its present. UJC continues to fiddle while, in this case, the federations are in flames.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Compensation. Let's start with the latest: we learned that in 2007 the CEO was paid (it would be hard to say "earned"), as disclosed in The Chronicle of Philanthropy, $765,000 ...$765,000 -- in salary and fringe benefits. Why? For what exactly? Should someone explain to the UJC Board the potential personal "excess compensation" liability? I believe (and have written) that Federation CEO's should be paid appropriate to their achievements in the manner of a meritocracy. But what could possibly justify this amount for this CEO compared to the work of federation CEO's around the country? How have the federations allowed this to happen? How do they/we permit this to continue? The current Chairs did not negotiate the Contract that provides for this incredible unjust enrichment. That they were stuck with it by their predecessors doesn't require perpetuating it.
Recession...Not for Us. Then, who could possibly believe that in the midst of the worst economic disaster for our nation since the Depression, the federations' national organization has been but a bystander. I know of at least two conference calls convened by federation/foundation leaders in one instance, and federation executives in the other, to which UJC professional representatives were invited. If national intervention and leadership were ever needed, it's now...and this UJC "leadership" sits on its hands or with its collective head in the sand. Could any reader have envisioned that after the federations' investment/waste of $400 million in dues over the nine years of UJC's life, this...this...is the return on investment? I am reminded of the old fund raiser's "joke:" a major donor is asked for his annual gift and protests that his business has failed, his savings are gone and he has lost everything. The solicitor's response: "Just because you're having a bad year, why should we suffer?" UJC's Budget demands are in that vein.
To its credit, on October 20, months after Jeff Solomon had issued a public warning to our system in an op-ed in The Forward, and months after our nation's financial crisis was evident to all, UJC organized its first initiative -- a one hour conference call "UJC/Federation Response to the Economic Situation" convened after a week's prior notice. In the void between the announcement of the meeting and its execution, UJC staffers were scurrying around amassing data and "best practices." The result, a conference call without structure...or hope, and, as it turned out, without substance. The Kanfer and Rieger announced goal was: "to shape a comprehensive contingency plan." I'm sorry, I had always thought a "contingency plan" is something one creates to deal with a possibility of the contingency occurring. Joe and Howard, I have news for you, the "contingency" is here, it's upon us, it's been here. This is the planning that should have been done when Jeff Solomon first wrote about steps to take 9 months ago. These leaders ignored the realities for 9 months; it was a breach of their leadership responsibilities. They were forewarned, time and again, and chose to ignore the warnings, at least in part, because of their antipathy toward the messenger. Shame on them...and shame on us.
UJC could and should show the federations some real leadership. On October 14 I privately offered Joe and Kathy Manning some suggestions that would enable UJC to say "we recognize the financial crisis in which federations find themselves" and suggested UJC take the following steps immediately:
1. We are reducing our Annual Budget by 20% to $30 million. We will do more with less and we will do it better.
2. We will immediately meet with federation lay and professional leaders to prioritize our programs and services. Then, we will eliminate programs and projects which, though critical to our federation owners, are not among the system's highest priorities in light of the economic crisis.
3. We will immediately decrease our investment in UJC Israel by 1/2.
4. We will redirect our lay and professional resources to the Development effort providing our owners with lay leadership solicitation teams, marketing materials and professional assistance and advocacy for the Jewish Agency and JDC.
5. Our UJC senior management earning in excess of $200,000 have agreed to reduce their compensation and fringe benefits by 10% and our President and CEO will reduce his by $150,000.
6. UJC will impose a strict hiring freeze and will freeze all salaries (other than above) at current levels.
Kathy did respond citing UJC Development's efforts to contact those responsible for federation campaigns, get a handle on best practices and ascertain the impact of the economy on campaigns. I plead with Kathy for more, in pertinent part: "...the implications for federations and both local and overseas beneficiaries go far beyond the steps you've outlines (and, certainly, far beyond those steps I have suggested). This is a real opportunity to lead our federations not alone to respond to them in the midst of crisis...This economic meltdown is the financial equivalent of Hurricane Katrina. UJC's response to that catastrophe was exemplary; now is the opportunity to prove the national organization's value once again under your and Joe's leadership." I have heard nothing further from Kathy and, it probably goes without saying, never anything from Joe Kanfer.
The Fall-Out. UJC resisted a budget reduction until pushed, kicking and screaming, by the Large City Executives to absorb a reduction from $40.2 million to $37 million -- still a prodigious amount particularly given the lack of return on investment. But, that's not the end of the story. First, UJC has been "negotiating" for two years with a Large City federation over that federation's inability to pay its Fair Share Dues. The community's most recent request for "hardship" relief was rejected by UJC's Financial Relations Committee this past Spring. Then, the Board Chair personally negotiated a "deal" with the federation leadership. If I understand it correctly, with no process within UJC, no referral to the Financial Relations Committee, the Chairman proposed what is essentially an extended deferral of a substantial portion of UJC's dues back to federation. Would that mean that the deferred amount would be subvented by Chicago's or Palm Beach's dues during those three years? Won't other federations which suffer no hardship now seek similar relief?
And what of a number of our largest federations whose leaders have advised UJC that they have determined that that rgese federations will reduce their Fair Share Dues payments. While the minuscule group of UJC's lay and professional leaders immediately went to plead the UJC case, never has UJC's Financial Relations or Executive Committee or, certainly not, the UJC Board been advised of this escalating Dues crisis? And, should this be a surprise?
And, all of this...this and more...preceded the economic crisis in which we...each of us, our federations...find ourselves today. And, all of this is but the tip of an iceberg that will bring down this Titanic if change is not immediate. What we have hear is a breach of fiduciary responsibility so grievous that in any other circumstance ownership would be obligated to ask leadership to step down...but not us. That is not our way. Better the organization die, better we cease or reduce our dues, better we do nothing.
In these circumstances, I was reminded of an old TV commercial for travelers checks. In an airport departure lounge a character clearly a bad guy is found standing about with a big suitcase. He would walk up to an unsuspecting traveler whose attache case the bad gut noticed was filled with cash was just sitting on the floor next to him. The big case would be very carefully placed over the smaller one, so that the victim didn't notice and, presto chango, the big case would devour the small one and the bad guy would walk away enriched. Clearly the big case was hollow with a false bottom and a pair of pincers inside. When the big case was lifted up, its handle would close the pincers, which grabbed the small case and hid it inside. To me a metaphor for UJC and the federations. Well, anyway, think about it.
Recently the brilliant Conservative columnist and pained Cub fan, George Will, described one Presidential candidate as "...behaving like a rookie in a league too high." Friends, this is the best description yet for the reality of UJC's CEO and Board Chair. Clearly, from their actions, they have been and are out of their league. The enterprise is at risk more than ever.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Observing the election, one can only conclude that the campaign for President of the United States has reached a Rovian ugliness unmatched over the decades that I have exercised my right to vote. I have, with you, watched with growing horror and disbelief at the unreasoned accusations thrown out hourly, it seems, about Barack Obama's loyalty to the United States and the alleged invidious influences that have "inspired" his candidacy. It is time for men and women of good will to say "no more" (and, if recent polls are to be believed, perhaps they have already).
While we watch and hear crowds at McCain and Palin rallies enflamed and so filled with rage, shouting "traitor" and worse in response to inflammatory rhetoric from a Presidential candidate whose constantly changing positions on the issues of most concern to us as Americans suggest troubling mood swings and from a Vice-Presidential candidate whose understanding of Vice-Presidential constitutional responsibilities are unmatched in American history in a candidate who might be but a heartbeat away from the Presidency and whose very nomination by John McCain suggests that he, himself, has a total disdain for the American people he seeks to lead. I fear the potential results of the hate now blowing in the wind. As Jews we know what can happen when people are roused by hate and fear; we have an obligation to say this must stop.
But, what about Israel, you ask? The screed published by the Republican Jewish Coalition suggests that reason has been shoved aside by a misplaced self- and political interest. Accusations of Barack Obama consorting with Hamas, of a desire to abandon Israel are belied by both Obama's words and his actions. Those from the Chicago Jewish community who accompanied Obama to Israel two and one-half years ago were witnesses to his love for Israel and the manner in which he was moved by what he saw there -- a far more in-depth experience than George W. Bush's famous and inspiring helicopter tour with Ariel Sharon over a decade ago. While polls among Israelis themselves evidence support of Obama's presidential bid over Senator McCain, Republican Jewish leaders spread irrational fears about Barack Obama and Israel, Barack Obama and Iran, not facts. No one questions either John McCain's support for Israel (although Palin's unrestrained enthusiasm for "Isreel" seems more scripted than real, as with all things) or Joe Biden's great friendship for the Jewish State. Yet, the RJC continues to spew the mistruths that have been characterized more by their antagonism to the Obama candidacy than their support for McCain's. At a time crying out for appeals to the best in us, they pander only to our fears. More's the pity.
Is it possible to believe, three weeks before the election, in the midst of the worst economic crisis to confront our country since the Depression who is the best man to be President? Have the last eight years taught us nothing? Does anyone among us believe that Israel is strengthened when the United States is weakened? Eight years of Bush policies are enough, more than enough, far more than enough. John McCain offers nothing more than four more years of the same; Sarah Palin offers hope only to the comedians of late night television. Barack Obama and Joe Biden offer us hope for change for the better, and hope for our country, for our children and grandchildren at this time of our country's great need.
I urge you to vote your confidence in America's future. Vote for Obama-Biden.
Chag Sukkot sameach.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Since Howard Rieger announced his decision to retire next August, he has been telling his senior staff, and federation professional leaders around the country, that the "problem" at UJC has been Joe Kanfer's interference -- stating UJC positions without consultation, constantly demanding that UJC change course without prior discussion, and leaving the UJC professionals to take the system's heat. On this one I give Howard the benefit of the doubt. Yet, in many ways, Joe is Howard's "creation" (for more on this read my book to be published in the first quarter 2009 -- United Jewish Catastrophes..the Love Story Ends) and, therefore, Howard is not free from blame. May this be the last time our national organization is led by a Chair who doesn't understand how federations work or what they need, and, it appears, who doesn't understand the lay-professional partnership.
Anyone who has read my Posts understands my commitment to and passion for a strong central address for the federation system. We didn't create UJC to be either a reincarnated UJA or CJF ( and does anyone believe that in the midst of a financial catastrophe that is the economic equivalent for federations as Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster for so many communities, that either of the predecessor organizations would be silent, without a plan as is UJC?) but an entity that would be better than either, better than the sum of its parts. We appeared to me to be on the cusp of that success at the time Steve Hoffman resigned as CEO...and, then, it all fell apart through federation disinterest, paying dues without regard to the ever-diminishing return on dues investment, an evermore exclusive lay leadership circle consisting of those who nodded their heads in agreement with the Board Chair's and CEO's wants and desires, apparently never questioning "is this what the federations want or need" (and G-d forbid, we ever talk with them about their wants and needs) and terrible personnel management. I have questioned where has the passion gone, where are the charismatic leaders, what is the organization's dedication to the Mission and Vision set out for it at its inception (not as Rieger unilaterally rewrote it, springing it on the owners in a View)?
I have banged my head against this wall for too long. I look forward in this New Year to a new cadre of lay leadership and a new professional leader who will deliver a UJC in which we can all take pride -- one that will engage all of us in this holy work. The sooner the better.
G'mar hatima tova,
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
As to the economic impacts on federations... UJC has still not even discussed how it might lead in offering lay and professional development assistance and expertise to federations at a time when the economic crisis is expected to have a a devastating impact on charitable giving. Example: at its Executive Committee meeting yesterday, UJC's leaders focused on "Recommendations for UJC Regarding Falas Mura." The fiddling is getting louder my friends as UJC buries itself in its own irrelevancy. Has an emergency FRD assistance plan been developed at UJC? Is there a cohort of lay leaders experienced in federation-driven FRD (which would eliminate the Chairs) ready to assist federations under David Fisher's titular leadership as Campaign Chair? Have the Campaign Chairs and Directors who participated in the Campaign Chairs and Directors and Women's Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission been convened by conference call so that UJC might learn about the economic environment impacting on campaign from those dedicated communal leaders leading the FRD effort? The answers: No, No and...No. I have spoken to leaders in one federation whose 2008...2008!!!...total donors reduced by more than half and its campaign dropped by 1/3rd. Other federation leaders around the country have told me of being advised by major donors, "don't even talk to me about 2009." UJC's silence is deafening.
As to the "strategic planning process"... Many have already pointed out why this "process" is doomed to failure as have the two prior "strategic plans" under this leadership. Let's add to the list: notwithstanding the admitted disaster of ONAD, within this strategic planning process there is a "work group" focused on UJC, JAFI and JDC. In typical UJC fashion, there are no lay representatives of JAFI or JDC at that Work Group table. Does UJC contemplate, as has been the style of Mssrs. Kanfer and Rieger, imposing "alignment" on our "partners" in name only? Is there no recognition that this just won't work, no matter the quality of federation professional leaders at work on the subject? Then, there is Development....or the total lack of it within a so-called UJC "strategic plan." There is no Work Group on the subject...none. Four years ago the FRD Study Group produced the following: the collaborative model, the emerging communities model (abandoned unilaterally by this UJC leadership -- in violation of written contracts with the affected communities themselves) and a set of Next Generation programs highlighted by the "Flight" and "Lunch With a Legend" Programs. Today Development is not even an after-thought to those who pose as our system's "planners."
This year's strategic planning will waste lay and professional resources so critical at this time of incredible crisis. At the end a "Plan" will emerge that will be like pulling a car out of a ditch only to discover you're out of gas. OK, bad enough...but you can be assured that with this leadership remaining in place discussing 3,000 Falas Mura while our federations and our partners contemplate running on fumes, with UJC there is always something worse to follow. Do Joe Kanfer and Howard Rieger have any comprehension that in these times, when federations are so stretched in trying to find the resources just to carry on, UJC Dues will be the first (or second) to go?
You know the Yiddish advice, loosely translated as: "Men and women plan and G-d laughs." Well, right now, G-d is experiencing hysteria.