Tuesday, March 17, 2009


UJC is in deep, deep trouble. Humpty Dumpty is more than teetering; Humpty is not being pushed off the Wall by the federations; no, it is throwing itself to the ground off the wall that it has built. The question is: when UJC hits the ground, will the pieces be big enough to be fit back together into a responsive and responsible organization?

Two weeks ago, as we reported last Wednesday, all...all... of the Intermediate Federations joined in a letter demanding deep budget cuts at UJC -- far deeper than the 10% estimate for 2010 to which UJC unilaterally determined. Then, over the past days, word has reached us that seven or eight Large City federations will demand a 30% dues cut in a letter in which those federations imply that absent such a reduction, they will recuse themselves from UJC membership and begin searching for a new method of working together in pursuit of a national and continental agenda.

I had suggested to Joe Kanfer in a breakfast in Jerusalem in February 2008 that UJC's position vis-a-vis the federations was "extremely fragile." I argued that UJC could emerge stronger if it engaged with the federations of every City-size on their terms rather than Kanfer's. I offered my help. Joe first refused my help, finding that suggestion ludicrous; then he dismissed my suggestion of the fragility of our system, finding that suggestion ludicrous; and, finally, he indicated that UJC was fully engaged with the federations and that I was "out of touch," finding my suggestion ludicrous. And look at what followed: the federations were overwhelmed by the financial tsunami that has struck all of us -- UJC was so totally out of touch that it had no special programming on the economy as it was impacting on federations at the GA beyond attempting to characterize Bank of Israel's Stanley Fischer's presentation on the Israeli economy as relevant (that Plenary presentation has proved to be irrelevant to Israel, as well), and has been desperately swimming upstream to catch up with the federations themselves; UJC focused solely on its third "Strategic Plan" in four years as some form of miracle drug for itself, dispensing it in February to a large yawn -- and promptly forgotten; the UJC leaders refused to acknowledge a need to reduce its budget even after federation after federation cut theirs until, under pressure, UJC announced in February, unilaterally as always that it might...might... cut its 2010 Budget by 10% (nothing in 2009), the response from 27 of the 44 largest federations (to date with more to follow) ringing loud and clear -- cut between 20% (the Large Intermediates) or 30% (a minority, growing, of the Large Cities) or we will reject our membership in UJC as you have grown more and more irrelevant to us and refuse to listen to us -- essentially telling Chairman Kanfer and CEO Rieger "you are out of touch with us."

Friends, I am not prescient. What I was seeing and commenting upon was what you were experiencing. My conclusions were based on visits with so many of you in your communities and listening. At a time that federations needed direct fund raising help -- for example, lay solicitors who were not cutting their gifts in the face of economic pressure -- UJC had driven those trained and experienced lay solicitors away. They weren't wanted. Now, when they are most needed, they are gone -- and there isn't a single lay leader in office at UJC who even knows who those men and women were. A Development Plan was offered by the senior Development professional in outline form so devoid of detail as to be of minimal value, so unrelated to the economic catastrophe as to have no relevance. And, that's where UJC has found itself -- sending out Dues bills for $37 million and the federation recipients finding UJC to be -- other than UJC Washington, I-LEAD, some of Federation Peer Yardstick, some research, its Cabinet and Women's constituencies -- irrelevant, more concerned with underscoring that federations who don't pay full dues will have their memberships in UJC terminated rather than with making UJC relevant enough to the federations to conclude that the costs of membership have value.

Oh, sure, there are federations that will continue to pay full dues and urge you to do so. Mine is one and I have the greatest pride in my federation. I have had a continuing discussion in Chicago arguing that our noble commitment to the collective responsibility that is represented by our Dues was always premised upon the theory that "...even if we do not get $3.4 million (or whatever this year's amount is) in UJC value from our Dues, many other federations are receiving benefits from what we and others pay." Today, it is impossible to reach that conclusion -- other federations are not receiving measurable benefits from UJC's application of the surplus of Chicago's (or New York's, Cleveland's, Baltimore's, MetroWest's, etc.) dues to their needs. And, that's the tipping point for UJC. Rieger still hearkens back to the great work during and in the aftermath of Katrina time and time again; ignoring UJC's total failure to support Houston and Galveston after last year's hurricanes. In the main, time and again UJC talks about the future while collapsing in the present and blames all this on the past,

UJC has just sent out Memos on "Dues alternatives" to its Executive Committee. An act of utter desperation; the Dues "options" are already being accelerated as UJC attempts to save itself from itself. A real mishmash of options none of which are fully thought through as to their implications. Some of the alternatives are excellent but they all boil down to "take it off the top" with no mandate to the federations who would do so (and so many are already doing so) that a reduction in core allocation to pay Dues will result in the very termination of membership that so many are threatening today. The message is: "bail us out, we don't care where you get the money to do so." Here's the almost comical alternative: "Hybrid 'Off The Top,' in pertinent part:

"A third approach is a hybrid of the first with at least three variations. ( I don't know who writes this stuff but they already have captured the "2009 Gibberish Award." )

Variation C would connect the obligation to fund UJC with another UJC priority: namely, the reconfiguration of financial resource development within the national system. (Where was that discussed at the FLI? Where has this been discussed within any governance body of UJC? Nowhere. Those who have argued for this principle have been rebuffed, even "wexlerized.") For some time now, a number of communities and individual volunteer leaders have expressed the view that the merger has diminished the amount of attention given to all aspects of fundraising. (Give it a rest, guys. The merger didn't "diminish" attention to fundraising, these leaders have done so, time and again. The merger emphasized fundraising, these lay leaders -- the Chairs and CEO -- have demeaned it time and again. Now, suddenly, they have discovered FRD.) Further, there is a view that the traditional, high status role of the national campaign chair has been diminished. (And who might be one source for such an opinion? Maybe David Fisher, forced to resign by the Chair's deprecation of the Campaign Chair's role? But, they don't speak to him; only of him, as is their style.) A year ago at the Large City Executives meetings...the need was articulated to enhance that status, reengage volunteer leadership, build on the success of women's philanthropy, and reinvigorate through affinity fundraising...The idea here is to develop a real strategic plan (oh my G-d, another one???!!! Apparently, when in free fall, strategic plan.) for reinvigorating all areas of FRD..."

First, my friends, UJC suppressed the Large Cities Execs report it now cites -- Refining UJC's Vision -- reissuing its own redacted version almost one year ago under the same title, and xxxx'ing out all...all...references to FRD enhancement. Now it adopts the concept by reference as its own. (Just as in the instance of the "Plant Report.") I don't know if this leadership should be congratulated for having found religion so late in life (this might be "...the highest priority for the coming year") or condemned for their so transparent disingenuity. The concept seems to be: JAFI and JDC we're going to rebuild FRD as in the old days...and you will pay for it and more ...and we will be in charge of it all. This is farce of the order of Moliere and tragedy on the order of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides...but not written quite as well.

Now, UJC has invited its Executive Committee to join the Budget and Finance Committee for the four or five hour meeting in April that will not just recommend the UJC 2010 Budget but, I would wager, recommend some form of "off the top" of the Israel/overseas allocation payment scheme in lieu of dues. One five hour meeting (including lunch) to resolve everything -- this is KanferRieger's "transparent process." Tragically, UJC is going down and its leadership, which should gracefully fall on their swords, with it, even if they are rescued from themselves. Ultimately, a result may emerge that will be the only one that can save UJC, but the process leading to it is so cynical as to be self-defeating in the long term. Desperation is driving UJC's Chairs, its Treasurer and CEO to put positions out there which are totally inconsistent with four years of rhetoric and deconstructing, destructive actions.

If anyone wants to be part of this shell game, meet me in the alley. I have the pea. Or, better yet, meet me at a place of your choosing and we can begin to put Humpty Dumpty together again


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