Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Each week, Howard's View is more and more a reflection of a growing detachment from the reality
facing the federations. Last Friday's was about the most distant yet (and, that is a very hard standard to exceed). In it, you will recall, the CEO decided to go on an unfortunate rant about the sacrifices UJC has made with regard to UJC's budget. Here's how he put it:

"Feb. 27, 2009/3 Adar I 5769

Enhancing Our Value

At the continental level and in our communities, we always look for ways to operate more efficiently and strategically -- to better meet Jewish needs. In the current economic climate, such efforts are becoming not just better business but even a matter of survival.
The recent Federation Leadership Institute (FLI) showed clear direction from federations around UJC strategies to weather the downturn and build for the future. Our strategic goals include focusing UJC's mission and vision, enhancing our governance structure, better coordinating our overseas planning and engaging in key efforts to grow our donor base such as branding our federation system.

The FLI, with the theme "Managing Through Challenging Times: Positioning for the Future," also dealt with cost reduction and revenue generation, with productive discussions about fundraising and budgeting.

After the FLI, our Treasurer, Michael Gelman of Washington, indicated that UJC will aim for an approximate 10 percent reduction in its operating budget for fiscal year 2009-2010, which in real terms amounts to a greater reduction when taking inflation into account. Such a plan will necessarily involve a reduction in force, which of course means dedicated staff will have to be let go, and their lives disrupted. This is a painful process, but one that is unavoidable. All of us face the same challenges.

UJC has led the way in fiscal responsibility long before the downturn hit. At merger a decade ago, our 1999-2000 budget was more than $46 million -- and this year we are aiming for a $33.2 million budget -- meaning we have cut our budget since merger by more than 28 percent, while absorbing inflationary costs.

We are taking other measures to control costs. Just this month we moved into a new headquarters, at 25 Broadway in New York City, which allowed us to negotiate a buyout package from our former landlord, a building allowance from our new landlord, and free rent for 13 months at our new location. This allows us to avert huge rent increases, which we would have had to confront at the end of the existing lease that was to come due in four years.

While we recognize the economic pressures federations face, and are doing our utmost to address those concerns, we also must remember that our continental system is the manifestation of that we can do together that none of us could do alone. Membership in such a system carries both privileges and responsibilities. Of course, there are communities that are facing worse conditions than others, and for those we have a process to consider hardship requests for reduction of dues. On the other hand, all federations will have the benefit of de-facto dues relief, through the adoption of a reduced UJC budget.

Despite our challenges, we have heard from you that our mission, at its core, remains more critical than ever. This is the time to look to our future, even while drawing strength from our past accomplishments. Our 2008 Annual Report ("The Voice of One. The Power of Many") is now out, and it tells the story of our collective efforts and showcases some of the ways we deliver value to the Jewish Federations of North America.

I hope you join me in taking pride in the fact that, despite our challenges, we continue to meet Jewish needs at home, and overseas, every day, even while looking to ways to enhance our performance. The Jewish world is counting on us to do that, just as we have for over a century.

Shabbat Shalom,Howard M. Rieger President & CEO United Jewish Communities
The hyperbole aside, two federation, communal thought leaders wrote me about this one. Here is what they wrote:
"I found it interesting (humorous?) that Howard assures everyone of a budget reduction, which in fact, will be a greater reduction than the raw number because of inflationary costs. Are Howard and Michael the only Americans who don't know we are in a deflationary period, not inflationary, which will make their real budget reduction lesser not greater by their same computation? Just a thought...."
And another, contrary in its own way to the first:
"(Howard) clarified the 10% reduction in the UJC budget as really much bigger when you factor in inflation. I imagine only UJC has to deal with an inflation issue. So when federation or G-d forbid a beneficiary that is facing the same or even worse inflation....cuts their budget 20-25% it is a true 20-25% (cut)..."

What I do know is that UJC has increased its budgets since the merger until the federations forced a $3.2 million decrease in this fiscal year. Now, UJC will not decrease its current fiscal year budget and has unilaterally "agreed" to impose a "maybe" 10% budget reduction for the fiscal year beginning July 1. This while federation-after-federation are cutting their current year budgets by far more than 10%. Where is the sense of responsibility at UJC? I think we know, don't we?
I have come to the conclusion that the Views are written with Crayolas before being transcribed.

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