For UJC it's been a long year...a very long year...and, therefore, it has been a long year for the rest of us. And if the past is prologue, 2009 promises to be even longer. In this Post I will attempt to summarize this annus horriblus and offer some reasons, from my humble perspective, for why it's been so very bad, so wasteful and so harmful to the federation owners of the national entity. (Although I would suggest that you who read this Blog regularly already know exactly what the issues have been and where the buck should stop but never does.)
So, let's note the "good" that UJC did in 2008: I-LEAD, Planners Learning Series Conference calls, Endowment & Planned Giving, Flight (the Fisher Foundation's contribution to the development of the Next Generation of Jewish communal leaders) and the continuing excellence of the UJC Washington Office and National Women's Philanthropy. For $37 million that's about what the federations received in value in return. (Actually, there is more...but not much.)
For UJC 2008 effectively began with its annual Board Institute, this one in Newport Beach. You remember: with few lay leaders in attendance, UJC raised the prospect (spectre [?]) of two major Special Campaigns. No vote was ever taken (it's doubtful there was a quorum) but that did not stop UJC's "leaders" from promoting these Special Campaigns for months, assigning staff to them (but giving that staff neither guidance nor support) and, ultimately, this "big idea" went...nowhere.
UJC then moved on to its Budget "process." The Large City Executives effectively preempted that process, demanding that UJC reduce its bloated budget for 2008-2009 by $3.2 million -- from $40.2 million to $37 million. Forced to do so, the Board Chair proudly announced that even had the budget remained flat UJC would have terminated 38 employees. UJC's CEO and Chair effectively claimed the Budget cuts were their idea, but the most gullible of us knew this not to be the case. Picture the Chair and CEO reducing staff but failing to focus UJC on any set of meaningful delimited tasks. Ask the CEO for a Table of Organization...yep, go ahead and ask. When federation leaders have asked for a further UJC budget reduction during this time of economic hardship, they have been met with silence or disdain.
Then came the "asks." Immediately after the budget was approved by the UJC Board in June, Rieger began a series of requests for funding of needs "over and above" the UJC Budget. Picture the Memos to Federation Executives -- for the Israel Advocacy Initiative, UJC's "partnership" with JCPA; for what was then called ACANI, the broad-based organization to fight a nuclear Iran; a mailbox for the victims of the Georgia-Russia War; a mailbox to aid the communities and victims of Hurricane Ike; a request for $5 million for the Ethiopian National Project; and $13.2 mi -- all without UJC governance process ... all failed. These "leaders" seem to believe that all they need do is decide what needs to be funded among the two (or three) of them, snap their fingers, send a Memo, and funds will flow. This is not the way we raise money in our communities; it has never been the way we have raised money nationally. Then, again, these leaders didn't raise any money using the finger snap/Memo method. Critical needs were left unfunded -- beneficiaries, partners, were ultimately told to raise the money themselves. In 2008 UJC discovered a formula for failure...and implemented it.
Oh, there was time in 2008 to decide to advance millions in borrowed funds to enable a move to downtown Manhattan in 2009; and to hire law firms in Israel and New York City at significant cost (and without process even by UJC's rubber stamp Committees) -- for what, exactly? Has anyone seen the work-product or the engagement letters between UJC and these law firms? (Seems like the Chair believes he can throw federation funds around like they were his own.) And there was time, without any internal governance process, to increase the contract for a branding/research "Initiative" from an approved $845,000 to $2 million -- an increase of over 100%, of $1,155,000 with no process! But funds for federation emergency needs, funds for our system's partners and beneficiaries -- uh uh.
And, all year long we celebrated Israel @ 60. UJC recently congratulated Washington's Norm Goldstein, a great lay leader, who chaired this effort without a dollar of budget support from UJC (which did provide excellent staff support). Norm personally raised $100's of thousands for events, personally sought out the support of the Government of Israel and great events were held across the country. UJC participated in none of them -- not a dollar to spare. Unlike Israel at 50 and 55, there were no national missions, no national events.
But...there was a GA in Jerusalem. Great plenaries, terrific ruach, wonderful site visits and very little impact. In the midst of an economic catastrophe impacting its owners, the federations of North America, not a single program...not one...dealt with these impacts. For UJC, at GA08, the reality of "federations08" just didn't sink in. Apparently, UJC's leaders' attitude was "...not our problem. Let us know when you have some best practices." When Madoff admitted his venal criminality impacting federations and donors, UJC chose to "survey" the federations; while others acted, UJC fiddled or stayed the course -- a Strategic Planning process -- no matter how off-course UJC was.
Divagation from the main focus of federations has been the constant for these "leaders." To paraphrase the New York Times film critic, A. O. Scott, "...to use the phrase 'the logic of these leaders' when talking about United Jewish Communities may be to take the 'oxy" out of 'oxymoronic.'" The actions of the CEO and Chair have been unrestrained by the owners and, most typically, their actions have been disgracious.
And, 2008 ended on a typical note for UJC. While Israel was forced to war on Gaza, UJC pondered. Its professionals demanded...demanded...that JDC and JAFI not communicate their responses to the terror even to their own constituencies, but to allow UJC to do so. UJC's answer was to "partner" in a conference call with, among others, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States on Monday of this week as a co-sponsor the Conference of Presidents, and UJC was merely a passenger. (The minor non-profit, The Israel Project, was able to do the same without partners.) On Monday, UJC did release an excellent background paper on the conflict. It is, with the messages of JAFI and JDC, worth reading.
On the positive side the Large City Federations demanded the UJC Budget be cut, the Large Intermediate Executives and Presidents have raised serious questions of the relationship of UJC's budget and dues to federations' needs and goals and the Intermediate Federations at Budget time raised similar serious questions and concerns. Many individual federations have advised UJC that their federation budgets can no longer support UJC dues at a time of growing scarcity. So far, as you would expect, UJC leaders have paid scant attention to engagement with the federations on any issue but dues. But in 2009 they will have no choice.
The Detroit Lions finished the 2008 National Football League season 0-16 -- an unmatched record of futility; UJC, but for its Washington Office and the work cited above, finished '09 without a win as well. Unlike the Lions who were shamed and embarrassed and who terminated their Coach, UJC has declared it to have been just the best year, the "best GA," yada yada yada. At UJC, no one has lost his job or position. It was Sam Cooke who wrote the song "A Change Is Gonna Come;" it's past time my friends. How long we gonna wait? When there is no sense of responsibility at the top of UJC, the owners must step forward.
May 2009 be a year of health and prosperity for each of you and your families, and may it be a year of hope and peace for our People.