Thursday, January 8, 2009


On Monday UJC flooded the Internet with Papers -- an Executive Committee outreach on "...Response to Israel's War with Hamas," a "System Update: The Gaza Situation" and, last but certainly not least, a plea to attend the Federation Leadership Institute accompanied by an incredible document (that is the subject of this Post) -- Strategic Plan Work Group Recommendations, Federation Leadership Institute, Draft January, 2009. (the "Plan Draft")

I feel a certain sense of responsibility for some of the incoherence in the UJC approach given my "urging," in my own way, that UJC better communicate with the Federations and its own Board, but, my G-d, there once again appears to have been a rush to completion triggered by a meeting date that overcame reason and coherence. I take no responsibility, however, for recommendations written like this: "Resources required for this role will not be additive to current UJC resources, but should be shifted from other UJC activities or raised from new sources. To minimize additional cost at UJC, the UJC planning capability required for the role must be limited in scale, with total cost limited initially to one proactive professional with support." Or this: "A draft set of revised principles broadly supported by the SPWG appears as Appendix B, pp.12-13. For specific changes from the prior set of principles, see Appendix A, pp. 10-11."

The SPWG is populated by lay and professional leaders for whom I have the greatest respect. I have spoken to some of them, and expect to speak to more of them, and to a person, they, unlike UJC;s leaders, welcome debate, want to engage on the substantive issues and understand that there is the possibility that the law of unintended consequences may play out if these Recommendations as drafted are adopted.

Let's look at the FLI transmittal and, then, the Plan Draft that accompanied it.

~ In the transmittal from Kanfer, Manning and Rieger, the "urgency" of attendance at the FLI is emphasized because that's where -- from February 8-10...a little more than one month from now -- Federation leaders will meet to discuss the implications of the economic and Madoff catastrophes and "the impact on our operations" (what a choice of words and phrases these folks use) of Israel at War. So, it's "urgent" that leadership attend but I sense no parallel "urgency" on UJC's part as our system's supposed "convener" (sic) to bring us together to focus on the two most "urgent" matters confronting us as a system and as individual federations.

And, those two "priorities" were then set aside to allow UJC to state its real focuses for the FLI -- the $2 million Branding and Marketing Initiative, the "findings...will be presented to federation leaders" which will in turn require policy decisions on "how we can reverse the decline of hundreds of thousands of donors...," "dislocation (caused by) population mobility" and "opportunities to reach disconnected potential donors..." I, for one, can't wait -- and, I suppose neither can you. Remember 1000's were interviewed (including federation leaders) -- were you? And, need I remind you...$2,000,000 was spent in this Study, 60% of it without authorization. It should be monumental.

~ Then there is the Plan Draft itself. There is some excellent material in the Draft -- but much of that is merely the restatement of UJC Policies previously adopted -- e.g., the effects of non-payment of dues, UJC as a membership organization, the obligations of each federation to the other. And some critical matters are deferred -- "launching a process to redesign governance," "launch a process to design and execute the new 'planning table'" (more about this scheme in a moment). And many recommendations are redundant: e.g., that Budget will follow Plan -- a principle asserted in each Budget narrative (See, e.g., the previously heralded Organizational Strategy circa March 2007, now obsolete) under these "leaders" only to see each each of the prior "Plans" aborted.

The "Recommendations" themselves include some excellent strategies including simplifying the UJC corporate structure which would have value if UJC leadership would use the "corporate structure" in decision-making. (Of course, this leadership has truly "simplified" decision-making by making decisions without regard to governance at all in so many instances.) The "Recommendations" include the potential for Federations acting together on major initiatives as "coalitions of the willing," enhancing the role of the Board, ending the confusion of Board and Assembly, formalizing optimal communications (this needs codification only because the current leadership communicates mainly among themselves) and a simplification of the By-Laws, among other things.

~But, then, at a moment in time where our partners -- JDC and JAFI -- will have unheard of 2008 and 2009 operating deficits exacerbated by UJC's failed cash collection efforts of tens of millions of dollars, the Plan Draft contemplates planning for more of the failed ONAD process by another name and the potential diversion of federation resources away from our "partners." At a time when support for the federations' partners in Israel and Overseas by UJC is almost non-existent, to plan for the redistribution of allocations to others is destructive and confusing. Yet, that's what has been "planned." (And, I have been told, JDC and JAFI leaders have been told by UJC that they are not to attend the FLI. "Partners" you know.)

If I read the language of the Plan Draft correctly, the UJC assumption is "we underfund JAFI and JDC by tens of millions and it's their fault." Read along as UJC would substitute a "Planning Table" (whatever that means) for ONAD (whatever that meant):

"The SPWG believes there is a strong need for a 'table for global planning' for the Federations which would have the following characteristics and functions:

1. It would be implemented as a consortium (undefined) of member Federations.
2. It would engage in needs assessment, connecting Federations to opportunities for collective action
3. It would assist Federations in clarifying the system's role in Israel, given the scale of today's Israeli economy has changed the context for the system's contribution there
4. While UJC strongly reaffirms that JAFI and JDC are its partners, their involvement at the 'table' will not preclude allowing the Federations to plan without partners for the global use of funds they raise
5. It would create the conditions for successful fund raising by educating...Federations and key influentials...with respect to global needs, rather than simply advocating for how members should allocate their funds
6. It would establish a peer standard range for all Federations for global participation through UJC and draw attention to Federations performing significantly below the standard.
7. It would enrich the range and flexibility of supplemental giving opportunities both with the overseas partners and with additional partners
8. It would work and build relationships with others, including Israeli NGOs and philanthropists" (Emphasis added)

Perhaps the authors of this egregious Section of the Plan Draft believe that the setting of a "peer standard" for global responsibility will pacify critics of the deconstruction of the historic partnership the enhancement of which was central to the merger creating UJC. They would be mistaken. For UJC to tacitly or explicitly rend the very fabric of the system is untenable but wholly consistent with these UJC "leaders" intent to use allocations for needs in Israel and "global" to establish a role for themselves that is currently filled by JDC and JAFI. During what UJC considered its "mediation," JAFI and JDC leaders were expressly promised "prior discussion" of any recommendations that would impact them in this process. Didn't happen. Not close. Friends, given the on-going actions of the current "leaders," these Recommendations are intended to mask, justify and rationalize the creation of an UJC presence in Israel that would duplicate and compete with the successful efforts of JAFI and JDC in place with Israeli philanthropists and Israeli NGOs. Now, my friends, if you were sitting at the JAFI or JDC "planning table" and you had seen core cash allocations drop by one-third...33%...since the merger creating UJC, and with no advocacy, none, for our partners' needs under this group of UJC "leaders" (in fact, just the opposite), and then you read this set of Recommendations, would you consider yourself a "partner" in anything other than rhetoric? In fact, without any governance approval, these UJC "leaders" here and in Israel have already embarked down the path they now "recommend" with reckless disregard for the consequences. (I was told by a professional who participated in Monday's emergency Executive Committee conference call that with JAFI and JDC responding to the needs created by the War, the professional leader of UJC Israel asked that "other (unnamed) providers" be considered recipients of Federation emergency allocations [and, unbelievably, that the President and CEO asked that at this time of economic crisis and War, the Executive not "..forget the IAI and ENP"]).

This Section is not planning, it is a codification of ulterior motives. If you believe otherwise, I've got a "planning table" to sell you.

Kanfer's "invitation letter," accompanying this document asserts in typical overstatement: "The FLI is the culminating moment when we will come together to forge a blueprint for a more productive future." Not the way I read it. Ignoring the pomposity of Kanfer's transmittal, this is a Plan for more of the same -- and "same" ain't been good at all for the federations or our donors.

Enough said.


1 comment:

long time observer said...

Now I'm confused. Just what is it that you're objecting to in the section on overseas planning and allocations? Are you suggesting that federations should not thoughtfully consider how to maximize the impact of their already too few dollars being allocated for overseas needs? How is that likely to earn the confidence of prospective donors? If JAFI itself can acknowledge that Nefesh B'Nefesh is better able than it is to increase aliyah from the U.S., should federations rule out a priori working with other partners that may be better positioned to achieve certain specific objectives?

I fully support JAFI and JDC's right to advocate for every dollar they feel they can effectively spend - with both federations and individual donors. I expect that they will for good reason continue to receive the bulk of federations' overseas allocations. But do you really believe that the system will be stronger if federations decline to be involved directly in identifying needs, seeking solutions, and building relationships with our fellow Jews around the world? I don't. I think the evidence is pretty strong that engagement and empowerment are the way to encourage more giving - which is, after all, what it's all about in the end.