Tuesday, January 6, 2009

PAST AND PRESENT

We have just learned that UJC's December 2008 cash collection effort resulted in a $16 million...that's $16,000,000 ... horrific shortfall from UJC's own cash projections for JAFI and JDC. While UJC's leaders will say "we did the best we could but it's the federations' fault," that's really not true. Certainly Sam Astrof and his professional cash collection team did the best they could, perhaps even better than that, working tirelessly with their incredible dedication to maximize cash. They deserve our congratulations. They care; they view their work as holy. But without year-long advocacy and a meaningful lay-driven cash collection effort side-by-side with Astrof's team's calls, begun long before mid-December, the results speak for themselves....and you can be absolutely certain that UJC collected its own budget in full before all else. And, it's not as if the cash collections playbook wasn't right there for them as a cherished "best practice." They just ignored it; pretended it didn't exist. All at a time of the worst economic crisis to affect our donors and communities.

Yes, I remember the "old days" when CJF and UJA viewed the system's obligations to to its partners seriously, as part and parcel of the moral imperative on which our national system was built. Both UJA and CJF had conflicts over many things but both were dedicated to the construct of collective responsibility of and for the federations and to the partnership of the Jewish People embodied in the work of JAFI and JDC and ORT -- a moral imperative the current UJC "leadership" clearly has never and will never understand. To them, "collective responsibility" is but a vestige of times past, something to throw into a speech from time-to-time and then forget about, a throw away applause line. Hence, the national organization crumbles with no sense of accountability and no sense of responsibility...and our partners in Israel and Overseas pay the price.

This deconstruction was neither what the founders of UJC contemplated nor what the federations envisioned would be circumstance that they would face in UJC's tenth year. (One of my friends reminded me how UJA and CJF in times of crisis in Israel immediately organized national Missions to the scene in expressions of our solidarity. [I should have remembered; I led two of them.] This group of "leaders" didn't think of doing so until someone suggested it, couldn't remember them, obviously didn't participate in them until reminded. Now they are planning such a Mission. The last of such Missions was in the era of our dear friend, Bob Schrayer's, z'l, leadership. But, I congratulate the UJC Executive on making the right decisions responding to the needs created by this war.)

But, here we are in 2009. Will UJC be forced, as our federations and JAFI and JDC are being forced, to cut its $37 million budget? Will UJC do so voluntarily, up front, or will cuts once again be imposed upon UJC? Is a budget reduction even under discussion within UJC's Executive Committee or are their sole focuses on the Strategic Plan, the now $2 million marketing and branding "Initiative" and FLI? How long are you going to put up with this dereliction of obligation, accountability and responsibility? To their credit, there are federations of every City-size whose leaders have concluded -- "no more. We've had enough." But, as you would expect, UJC's top "leaders" are paying no attention. UJC must be reconstructed immediately; clearly that will not happen with the present leadership in place. Encouraged by talking only to themselves, these guys don't even know there's a problem.

Rwexler

3 comments:

Leslie said...

OK, now you're just getting shrill.

So cash collection is also the fault of Rieger/Kanfer? When are the federations themselves accountable (and I work at one)? By the way, did it ever occur to you that the federations don't have the cash?

I get that you think the UJC senior professional and volunteer leadership stink. I think everybody gets that about your blog. You're probably right. But when is enough enough? When does it sink to sin'at chinam? And when will we discuss solutions instead of beating our chests about how the past was better and we are smarter than the guys currently in charge (and by the way I am willing to concede on all points!)?

The past is of little use. Oh, it was glorious and successful. And built our institutions and made Jews a pillar of American society. We won. We won because of the builders. But now, we are at the next stage and the next stage is very different because the future is too different.

The Jewish world has changed. The federation world hasn't changed enough.

People aren't getting on planes for what they perceive as discretionary wars. People aren't dialed in on the Gaza situation. Most Jews - and most federation donors - don't accept global Jewish responsibility except for extraordinary situations. I bet you that if you took a poll today, more federation donors would support reducing the overseas in favor of local. I'm not saying that's good. I am saying it is what it is.

Is anybody's phone ringing off the hook with offers of money to send to Israel? Any volunteers showing up because they feel a need to help Israel however they can, even from thousands of miles away? How well attended are these solidarity rallies -- and who's coming to them?

All this is to say things have changed and are still changing. UJC ain't the problem. It's actually a symbol of the problem. Antiquated attitudes and expectations based on yesterday are part of the problem.

Now -- how about we focus on solutions?!

long time observer said...

Assuming I am not "barred" from your blog, I do hope, Richard, that you will listen carefully to what Leslie is saying. Let's leave the issue of the quality of leadership aside (for the record, I disagree with you and Leslie that today's leaders are any less dedicated and competent than those in the past, but I'll bracket that debate for now). The larger issue, which you just don't seem to get, is that continuing to do things the way they were done in the past - which is what you are continually urging - will not make things better; it just digs the hole deeper and deeper.

I understand that you have a position that requires you to be a tireless advocate for JAFI, and I don't doubt for a minute that your advocacy is sincere and well-intended. But, the era of the JAFI-JDC monopoly as conduits for federation overseas allocations is over. This is not because these are bad organizations, but because the old system is simply out of sync with contemporary realities. So too is the idea that federated fundraising can revolve almost entirely around the annual campaign.

Sadly, the results do speak for themselves. And these trends began long before the current leaders of UJC were in place.

At least the current leaders have the wisdom to acknowledge that the way in which the system does business must change if it is to thrive again. Will all of their ideas for change be immediate successes? Maybe not, because the challenges are very real, and we will need to learn what works and what doesn't as we go. But, without new approaches, nothing will change, whether professionals make the calls or lay people do.

So, let's hear your positive ideas about substance, not just your complaints about what isn't being done the way it used to be. How do we increase the numbers of donors? How do we get more of them excited about ways in which we can affect the global Jewish - and human - situation? How do we tap into the energies of young Jews who are now directing them outside the federated system? These are the challenges. What are your answers?

RWEX said...

Friends,

Leslie and LTO have different perspectives on my Posts. I have always felt that those who complain about the "tone" of these Posts or that my writing has grown "shrill" have little of substance to offer. Those who read these Posts and truly believe that I am "living in the past" let alone kvelling about it or that I have offered no suggestions for best practices in today's reality really ought to reread this Blog from the beginning -- your selective reading and resultant commentary are unworthy of the bright people you both are.

Also unworthy is your refusal to reflect the courage of your own convictions. While you are comfortable criticizing these Posts, you continue to refuse to identify yourselves. When you do identify yourselves, and stop hiding behind your fictitious titles, your comments and observations will no doubt rise to the level of being worthy of respone.

Rwexler