Monday, December 15, 2008


Albert Einstein was allegedly heard to say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. If that is insanity, I admit to it (if one who is in fact insane can be believed). Yet, almost every day one learns of some act of UJC or some failure to act that can reduce you to either tears or hysterical laughter. So let's look at how UJC is going about cash collections at this most difficult time; then you decide whether to laugh or cry.

Some background. In the past, under a succession of CFO's of UJA and, then, UJC, we organized a lay-professional partnership in the year-end cash collection effort. The process was simple: the UJC Financial pros would call communities to inquire as to the federation's cash projections (to assure that December projections were consistent with allocations, previous projections, etc.). If a federation was non-responsive to the UJC professionals, the Financial Relations Chair (up to a point in time that was me [or, before and after me, Norm Tilles of Rhode Island, or Alan Shulman of Palm Beach] Today it is Jacksonville's Steve Silverman, a great lay leader poorly used by the Board Chair and CEO). We would get the name of the federation Chair and we would call lay leader talking to lay leader. Frequently, we would call on members of the Financial Relations Committee to call a community in their region -- e.g., Jerry Yanowitz in the West, Conrad Giles, Midwest, etc. Sometimes a City-size Chair like Kathy Manning back in the day. Often, not surprisingly, the federation lay leader we would call would not be aware of a cash issue...but they always followed through. Our results were uniformly good -- even excellent. And our calls went to every federation regardless of size. We didn't wait for the community to call the national organization; we were proactive. For a brief period, Sam Astrof, UJC's COO/CFO followed the same established protocol. Not any more.

Sam with his professionals in the cash effort, Pam Zaltsman and Cheryl Lefland were totally commited to the success of the federations' cash effort -- this was their sacred calling. They know and knew how critical the cash they collected was to those of our prople most in need. Someone directed them to change a lay-professional process that was working.

For the process was changed by some undisclosed fiat; cash collections were henceforth to be strictly "professionalized." The results, as they say, speak for themselves. In 2007, when a community was non-responsive to the Finance Department's professionals calls, if to a Large City, the CEO was charged with responsibility. At the end of 2007, JAFI's and JDC'S cash receipts from UJC's collections fell millions...millions... under UJC's own projections. Case in point: one Large Federation in the East was not responsive to UJC's staff's calls; Rieger called the Executive whose apparent response was: "we're doing the best we can. Tell your staff to leave us alone." Rieger reported back to the staff to stop calling that community. The result, that federation's cash payments were $2.7 million below UJC's projections. There were explanations -- reasons that were not disclosed to UJC (in fairness to that federation, its chief professional may have explained the circumstances to Rieger in December 2007 who never discloed the circumstances) until lay leader inquiries in mid-2008. Could a lay leader's engagement have made a difference in December 2007? Doubtful in this instance but, most certainly, projections to JAFI and JDC and those "partners" expectations would have been changed.

Sure, Michael Gelman, UJC's Treasurer, made some calls in 2007. Generally they were uninformed and without the structure that had been built over time. The wheel was remade...and then, as with all things UJC it seems, fell off the truck. Cash concerns were expressed in passing at the GA08 Board meeting. And it is clear that UJC is making a concerted effort here in December to emphasize cash collections: an important system-wide conference call and an, attempt, described below, to engage UJC lay leaders with communities in the cash effort. Is it too little, too late? The results will, as they say, speak for themselves.

In mid-2007, I had urged the Board Chair and CEO and CFO, in writing, to reinstitute the lay cash collections process that had been so successful at the same time that I urged a lay driven cash collections process for IEC collections after learning that UJC hadn't any data on the full extent of the IEC Campaign. I was ignored as always. (Strange, but this leadership's attitude seems to be "if it's broken, don't fix it.") Post GA08, UJC set forth its Cash Collections process in the midst of the economic crisis -- once again a professional process the prior year's results notwithstanding. One of our system's best Executives wrote UJC's leaders urging a lay driven collections process, envisioning a system as potentially impactful as I outlined above. The UJC Chair couldn't have responded more quickly, positively or, for him, enthusiastically -- "Howard will implement" or words like that. And, then...not so much.

On December 4, Sam Astrof sent his Memo as UJC COO/CFO to Federation CEO's and CFO's (but, curiously given its content, not to the UJC Board): Financial Matters to Consider During These Turbulent Times (ahhh, that's what we're in -- "turbulent times"). Some excellent suggestions until the ultimate Point 7: Cash Mobilization:

"UJC is ready to assist federations with collecting year end cash pledges by offering UJC lay
leadership. i.e., UJC Board Members as well as appropriate leadership from our partner
agencies to contact donors and meet with federation lay leadership or federation boards. If
you would like to avail your federation of this service, please contact

Quite a "service." Sure, in the past I would be asked to call a UJC lay leader to request their help in their community. We did engage where a federation responded and believed it would be helpful. UJC's new "Rube Goldberg-like" process -- "call us, we won't call you" -- was as far from that Large City Executive's proposal for a cash collection methodology as it was from any hope for success. UJC was given a template by a major federation leader that offered the possibility of a successful cash season at a most difficult time -- instead of just implementing the recommendation that it had been given, UJC felt it necessary to tweak it, to change it, to substitute its own cockamamie formula for failure for one that might have achieved success. (Picture this conversation: UJC lay leader: "I want to call _____. your largest contributor, and collect his pledge for you." Federation CEO: "Are you nuts?" "Bang" -- the sound of the telephone hitting the cradle. UJC leader: "Hello? Hello?") That's UJC in a nutshell.

Now, I have learned, UJC will role out a new Cash Collection process today. I can't conceive how it will be so helpful to federations and UJC's partners to read about it with two weeks...two weeks... left in the calendar year -- the year-end on which JAFI and JDC are so dependent. (Apparently, this "new...process" consists of a Memo from Rieger to Federation Executives "advising" them that unnamed "UJC leaders" will be calling their federation Chairs to thank them for their cash efforts and offer assistance. See paragraph immediately above.)

My head hurts...but at least I know where it is. I have a suspicion I know where UJC's head is as well.


No comments: