Tuesday, November 25, 2008

MELTDOWN

GA08 is over. An opportunity for UJC to engage its federation owners in a serious dialogue over the implications of the economic tsunami on our system, totally lost. UJC leaders continue to focus on a Strategic Plan and a $2,000,000 Marketing/Branding Initiative, both of which will be irrelevant by the time they are "ready" in February 2009 if our federations are then in the midst of dealing with the devastating impacts of the economic reality that is upon us today. With a meeting of the UJC Board and Assembly last week in Jerusalem, the opportunity to begin a dialogue with UJC's owners on the economy as it impacts on the federation was right there for the taking -- and UJC's "leaders" avoided any discussion at all. While I have absolutely no expectation that UJC leaders have the intellectual or practical capacity to recognize what they need to do, I also know to an absolute certainty that federation lay and professional leaders do. And I have a suggestion or two...

UJC has convinced itself that the positive 2009 FRD reflected in the Greenberg Event in New York and the Crown Dinner in Chicago, the fact that over 200 attended Detroit's Hermelin Event and over 1100 at Chicago's Vanguard Event show that our system will struggle but overcome. It's great to publicize the successes, but to ignore the realities? Yet, it is the D.C. federation's decision to impose a one week "unpaid leave" for its entire staff over Pesach, the Jewish Agency's $45 million growing deficit, the leaders of Birthright personally borrowing to meet the organization's obligations to the kids who have already signed up for the upcoming "Voyages of Discovery," and the federations around the country who have reorganized to focus on feeding and sustaining Jews in growing need who require our system's attention -- these suggest that our system could essentially be overwhelmed. With UJC having done nothing beyond "serial asks," the IAI has been essentially financially abandoned forcing JCPA to make its own ask (and, if the IAI is in fact a "partnership" between JCPA and UJC, why has UJC left its side of the IAI Co-Chairmanship vacant for over one year?); the ENP, without sufficient funds, encouraged to independently fund raise; "asks" are made without authorization or follow-up; etc., etc.

Worst, for the first time in our organizational history, JAFI and JDC lack the advocacy support of the national organization of the federation system. Any suggestions that UJC itself significantly reduce its budget; that its professional leader reduce his compensation (see the article in The New York Times this past Sunday on what many University Presidents are doing as an example); that UJC focus all of its efforts short term on assisting the federation owners meet the challenges of this fiscal crisis -- all are met with...silence. UJC's leaders continue to operate in the bubble they have constructed to protect themselves against any ideas but their own. It's past time for them to go.

The federations themselves must immediately organize a national Summit --- Jewish Federations - Meeting the Impacts of the Economic Melt-down. All federations would be invited (and, as in the instance of prior conference calls among the largest foundations and Large Cities and Large Intermediate federations, UJC would be invited to attend as well -- their professionals can take notes). The Co-Chairs could be Stanley Gold and Morris Offit and the LCE would provide the professional support. Leading economists, foundation leaders like Jeff Solomon and Chip Edelsberg, Jewish leaders in finance (including Gold, Offit, Crown, Sarver, Bloomberg, John Pritzker, Larry Summers), federations already in the execution stage of emergency plans -- e.g., Chicago, Washington, New York, LA. Rochester, Palm Beach, NY, Houston -- would be among the presenters. William Daroff, UJC's chief Washington professional, would organize panels of Washington political and thought leaders. This two-day meeting must be convened immediately in Washington; enough time has been wasted. If federation leaders today conclude that they must devote all of their attention to the economic crisis and haven't the time or energy to confront simultaneously the $37 million problem that is UJC, we will have the organization we deserve, not the one we need.

Now, of course, this Summit should be UJC's responsibility and would be, if there was a UJC. For ten months UJC had the opportunity and responsibility to plan for this most serious of eventualities. it did nothing. UJC, sadly, has failed to act as the system's convener and out of that failure, has abandoned its most serious of obligations. Sure, we come together to learn of UJC's "leaders'" "big ideas" but we have learned that they have almost nothing to do with federations. Further, these "leaders" have evidenced an absolute inability to get their ideas executed because they have wholly failed failed to involve federations' leadership in their formation. As long as the current Chair and CEO remain in place, oblivious as they appear to be, so totally focused on a Marketing/Branding Initiative and a faux Strategic Plan respectively, the federations must go it alone -- but let's go it alone together.

Friends, a Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families.

Rwexler

4 comments:

long time observer said...

I get it that you're concerned (also that you don't think much of UJC's Chair and CEO), but what exactly would a summit like the one you propose accomplish? We have more effective and efficient tools for sharing information and for consulting with experts. (The online resource center that UJC has established is an example.) Other than cost a lot, what do you expect a summit to do that federations aren't already working on? It's not like we're not aware that there's a problem. Bringing everyone to Washington certainly won't revive the economy (though I guess every little bit spent on airfare, hotels, and meals helps), and it won't feed any hungry or educate any children.

The sky may or may not be falling for federations and other Jewish philanthropies - that remains to be seen. It's clear, though, that there are serious issues to be addressed, and as far as I can tell, they are being addressed in a variety of forums. But, if I were UJC, the last thing I would do is call an elaborate, glitzy summit like you describe. My guess is that if they did, you'd be criticizing them in your next post for wasting the federations' money.

RWEX said...

This is the last time I will respond to a critic of this Blog who lacks the courage to put his/her name to a Comment.

It's unfortunate that, in LTO's rush to defend the inaction of our national organization and its "leaders" at a time of devastating economic impacts, you endorse UJC doing nothing (other than create what you describe as "...effective and efficient tools for sharing information")and suggest that it would be best if 155 federations explore 155 separate solutions. You demonstrate in your Comment (as in your previous Comments) a total lack of understanding of what the core purposes of a national organization of and for the federations is supposed to be -- in particular what it is supposed to be at a time of national crisis such this.

It no longer surprises me that someone who claims to have been a "long time observer" of our federation system would lack any perceptible understanding of it. I do, however, appreciate the sarcasm.

Rwexler

paul said...

Richard - There must be a way to exclude narishkite from people who do not use their names - they have absolutely no credibility!

btw: in this case, LTO proves that he has no clue about what u r suggesting. I did not read that you suggested "...an elaborate, glitzy summit...".

So sad.

Chag Turkey Samayach,

paul jeser

RWEX said...

Paul,

Thanks. I agree with you 100% on all counts.

Richard