Saturday, April 4, 2009


    To the UJC Budget & Finance Committee and Executive Committee:

  • On April Fools Day, the members of UJC's Budget & Finance and Executive Committees received the draft UJC Budget. As of the night of April 1, four of you had sent me a copy. Thanks, but I probably was not supposed to see it -- just as no other UJC Board member was...only more so. Before some initial reactions to the Budget document....

    Also on April 1, Forward reporters, Rebecca Spence and Anthony Weiss, published a well-documented story on UJC's self-imposed Budget and Dues woes. A significant portion of that story is reprinted below, obviously with emphasis added.

    "UJC’s Future at Stake as Local Charities Call for Dramatic Cuts

    By Anthony Weiss and Rebecca Spence
    Published April 01, 2009, issue of April 10, 2009.

    "United Jewish Communities, the national association of federated Jewish charities, is facing calls from a host of federation leaders for drastic cuts in next year’s budget.

    A combination of tough economic times and widespread dissatisfaction with UJC has led to the calls for change. At least one proposal would strip the national organization down to what it was more than a decade ago.

    At stake is the future of UJC...The merged body has long faced criticism over its effectiveness, but not until now have such severe measures been floated. According to some federation system observers, the contemplated cuts could mark the beginning of the end for UJC.

  • “This could result in cutting UJC so badly that as it presently is constituted, it would not be able to continue,” said Gerald Bubis, founding director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Bubis co-wrote a book on the making of UJC.
    With offices in Jerusalem, New York, Los Angeles and Washington, UJC is an organizational behemoth. Until recent layoffs, it maintained a full-time staff of 208, and its budget for the 2008–2009 fiscal year was $37 million. Its funding comes directly from local federations, which pay dues relative to the size of their annual campaign. In practical terms, reducing the UJC budget by a certain percentage would spell a roughly equivalent reduction in annual dues.
    Forced downsizing of local federations because of the financial crisis — the Cleveland federation, for example, slashed its budget by about 22% and fired 25 people — has focused federations’ attention on local community needs. Many are now looking to the national system for further savings.

    UJC treasurer Michael Gelman, who chairs the budget and finance committee, said in a statement that UJC and federations had held “in-depth discussions” as part of the 2009–2010 budget process. “The committee is acutely aware of the needs and desires of federations, whose budget requests have ranged across the spectrum,” Gelman said. “Some insist that after years of downsizing, further cutbacks would impair UJC’s ability to function in critical areas, while others seek wider reductions.”

    Gelman added that discussions would continue as part of the budget process and conclude with a final review by the UJC board of trustees later this spring.

    While the merger that formed UJC was meant to streamline the national system and provide effective leadership for local federations’ domestic and overseas work, UJC has long been accused of bureaucratic inefficiency and lack of vision.

    Some insiders say the pressures of the current financial crisis have merely pushed long-percolating problems to the fore. “The economic crash simply accelerated the issues and underlined them,” one big-city federation executive said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If there had been a successful national organization that was meeting the needs of communities, there would still be a cut, but it would not have been as drastic as it is now.”

    Stephen Hoffman, president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, said he does not want to see any money taken away from the Jewish Agency or the JDC. He also said that even in the pre-merger days, when the CJF and the UJA were separate entities, the same questions over dues and the functioning of the agencies were always in play.

    “The merger was supposed to help resolve some of them,” he said. “It hasn’t successfully yet, so we continue to have the challenge of what different federations from different parts of the country want a national organization to do. It’s always going to be a challenge serving these conflicting visions.” (Emphasis added)

    * * *

    The quotes in the article above, one attributed to Steve Hoffman and another to one of his colleagues speaking to the Forward on the condition of anonymity, are, to this writer, compelling. Later that day I read the Budget Draft. I was reminded of the old lawyer joke: "What do you call 1000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start." The UJC Draft Budget is just that -- a good, positive start. Certainly a positive step forward...with a long, long way to go. The Budget Draft offers the Budget & Finance Committee the opportunity to consider an 18% reduction from the FY 2009 Budget with plenty...plenty...of room for greater programmatic reductions. Everyone will appropriately congratulate Sam Astrof and his staff, and Michael Gelman, for an excellent job. They deserve the congratulations. But, the Budget and Finance Chair doesn't believe that any further cuts to this Budget are possible. We disagree. Consider:

    The Budget suggests without saying so that the ridiculous "realignment" of financial resource development is over. While the Narrative evidences that Development and Global Operations ("Israel" has once again been dropped from UJC's lexicon) remain in a state of confusion, the "merging" of Community Consulting into Development with an emphasis on direct assistance to federations in their Annual Campaign efforts, is an unspoken acknowledgment, two years too late but a direct acknowledgment nonetheless, that the "Reorganization Strategy" was and is a strategy that took UJC off the tracks. However, if UJC leaders believe that in allocating dollars back to FRD, they are "assisting JAFI and JDC" in some existential manner, rationalizing their "off the top, save UJC at any cost" approach, they are acting in a manner so cynical as to be, for one of the few times, transparent.

  • The section on Development appears to have almost been taken verbatim from the March 2008 Large Cities Executive report, barely heretofore acknowledged by UJC, Refining UJC's Vision, and that's a good thing. It's as if UJC's leaders either had an epiphany or got religion or, most likely, looking for that rationalization cited above, any of which yields a refreshing change in approach, emphasizing something the federations need and want.

  • Even with all of this, confusion remains as between the Center for Jewish Philanthropy and Development, between the desire for more Missions and the budget for Missions (with a major plus being that Missions themselves are relocated to Development), the emphasis on Development and the cut in budget for the invaluable Campaign Chairs & Directors Mission. It's as if UJC management got to a certain a good place...and then its internal, infernal schizophrenia kicked in.

  • Someone will have to ask the question, in this time of economic crisis, do we need UJC spending $1,250,000 ($950,000 plus a $300,000 "carry-forward") in 2010 on "Branding," with all that portends, as important as that subject may be? (By the way, the Branding Initiative appears in a Budget for UJC approval [or rejection] for the first time -- after millions have been spent for....what, exactly?)

  • UJC's work in Israel continues to need careful examination and, in this guy's view, a true "needs assessment." For example, why does UJC-Israel require 4.5 FTE staff dedicated to "Needs Assessment/Program Planning?" What do they do? What is it "planned" that 4.5 FTE will do? Why do we need the multi-million dollar expense of a do nothing UJC Israel office and the Budget it requires at this time of federations' economic pain?

  • The Budget reflects a "reduction" of $250,000 by eliminating a 2009 "grant" to "Sheatufim" (one of this leadership's new "NGO partners") in Israel. While I applaud the elimination of this "grant," I do not recall any such "grant" being approved as a line item in the UJC 2009 Budget. If I am correct, so much for "transparency."

  • Very quietly, all budgetary (and for that matter UJC) references to Renaissance & Renewal, one of the Pillars on which UJC was constructed...gone. As if it never existed. Without a peep.

  • The 2010 Budget includes a $500,000 GA subsidy. The "new GA" designed by the Chairs and CEO has been a financial (and institutional) train wreck. The entire GA construct needs to be rethought immediately. If the GA can "break even" only with a $500,000 federation subsidy and a $700 per Registrant fee, the system has to respond to the dual question: "Can we continue to afford an annual GA" or "Can the system, in its current condition, afford not to have an annual GA?" Merely throwing $500,000 at the General Assembly doesn't answer either.

And so many questions remain or are opened by this Budget: how much was really spent on FRD and UJC-Israel in FY 2009; if Federation Peer Yardstick was one of UJC's highest priorities in FY 2009, why is it now relegated to just a passing mention in 2010; out of what resources has UJC paid severance to those terminated over the past two years and from what funds will severance payments to the 31 staff members (and are such terminations really required as stated by the CEO in a Memo to the UJC staff) be paid; why does UJC seem to persist in its pursuit of creating a charity in Israel (growing, of course, out of a "planning table" in New York City) in competition with JDC and JAFI at a time that Budget dollars are so precious; are UJC's most senior professionals cutting their compensation and, if not, why not...and I am certain each of you, as you read the Draft Budget will have more.

And...there is the threshold question of why there is not a preemptive federation action to replace UJC's current leadership with a sense of immediacy appropriate to the crisis in which UJC finds itself and which these leaders created? For this, there is no discussion, within UJC at any rate. And UJC leaders with some federations will claim that unless the Draft Proposal on "off the top" is adopted, UJC is "dead" and the JAFI/JDC core allocation will die with it as well. In their desperation, these people believe that the few federations which will "guarantee" the sanctity of core for "off the top" purposes will defund core if "off the top" as proposed is rejected. They are so wrong... and so sadly misguided.

But, with all of the questions and all of the issues, at a time of economic crisis for our federations, the 2010 Draft UJC Budget represents a good start...but it is only a starting point, not the finish line... to restoring UJC's relevance. It will take real leadership, new leadership. for and of the federations to get there.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Incredibly sad.

All the best to the latest round of UJC employees who, through no fault of their own, have been laid off.

Wondering about other cost-saving ideas:

Are salaries being frozen? Any salary cuts?

Are some regional offices being closed, like URJ and others are doing?