I was taken with a small cartoon in The New Yorker this week (March 30, 2009). Two aging bums, disheveled, cheeks chock-a-block with stubble, are standing next to one another. One says to the other: "In my day, there was no reward for incompetence." And, today, a Large City Executive called me and said, among other things: "...it looks like the only thing that can save UJC now is Lourdes."
When I think of the errors that have been made -- whether of commission or omission -- over the past four years plus, none even comes close to ranking with the errors I made over a decade ago. It was then that I, and others, came to the conclusion that UJA and CJF, weakened mainly by the federation system demanding more of the organizations while demanding that they pay less but wanting absolute control of one while underfunding the other, must merge. Many warned me that the end product would only be as strong as the support the federations gave the new entity. I was convinced that that support, once earned, would be constant, even grow. Foolishly, I also believed that the new organization, which in its first decision began the process of undermining the good -- adopting the name "United Jewish Communities" and tossing aside as "part of the past" the most valued brand in Jewish philanthropy.
The real crisis facing our system today is that a succession of lay Chairs and the current CEO, presumed trust but never....never... tried to earn it. But, how have we come to this day --a day when many, many federations want nothing more than a trade association on the cheap? Many reasons: let me offer a few that are and were real and some that were pure fiction. Many of the suggestions and recommedations that follow were transmitted to UJC's leaders over the last 4+ years and routinely and totally ignored.
"Vast Cultural Differences." There were different "cultures" between the merging organizations and, to a limited extent, these were perpetuated through the Merger that created UJC by the creation of Pillars, postponing a full instutitonal integration. But, to those who over the last four years argued thast the "cultural differences" were holding UJC back, let me say: this became but an excuse for stasis. An excuse, nothing more. Leaders worth their salt would have addressed this red herring through integrating staff and programs and integration at the Senior Management level. Instead, the "cultural differences" mantra became the "explanation" for a lack of progress. (And, in fact, if there were "fiefdoms" holding UJC back before the Pillars came down, take a look at UJC today -- new fiefdoms, old wine in new bottles.)
Were the seeds of catastrophic collapse UJC now faces sewn with its birth by merger? I would argue that as Americans we live under the rule of law not men/women. Yet, through acquiescence, and as enablers, we have allowed UJC to operate for a decade without regard to the Merger Agreement or, too often, UJC's own governance but, rather, according to the agendas of a small group of lay Chairs. We turned the "rule of law" on its head. The results, as they say, speak for themselves. Opportunities have been too many to count for federation lay and professional leaders to assert their ownership -- I have cited but a few over the past 15 months -- and time after time, those who could have, just didn't. Many federation CEO's have told me (and others) privately, of course, that "UJC and its leaders are a horror story" or worse, and then publicly acquiesced in the very misjudgments to which they privately objected.
I would still argue that the structure the federations put in place when UJC was created offered great opportunities for UJC to succeed, to be their instrument, their central address -- an organization truly focused on federations' needs. But, too often...and in the last four years (+) way too often...that agenda was twisted and turned to those of the few and without regard for the federations or the cost or potential benefit or lack thereof. The Merger Agreement promised a focus on financial resource development, the current leadership turned UJC away from that focus; the original By-Laws promised great lay involvement (and in its earliest weeks, there was a tremendous time investment in assuring that what were then UJC's Pillars were populated by men and women from Young Leaders to the not-so-young, from across the Continent and with an emphasis on gender equity), the current leadership has somehow convinced themselves that reducing the size of the UJC lay structures across the board would create greater lay involvement and engagement -- that somehow the lack of lay involvement under this logic improves lay engagement. They were, of course, wrong. And, from UJC's birth through the present, there was, first, an unintentional and, now, a willful erasure of institutional memory, a pushing away of those lay persons with historic commitment to the system qua system. No institutional memory, no sense of the values or principles that guided our commitment and work. The result, of course, is clear -- given their miniscule numbers and lack of "reach" or outreach, there is nowhere for the current leadership to turn for continental support. The bridges erected in the Merger have been burned.
And while the bridges have been burning, what has the current leadership been working on these past few weeks: a "new" Dues structure and the "rescue" of 110 Yemenite Jews -- Dues for what and "rescue" from what?
ONAD. If one read the founding Report of the Task Force on Overseas Needs and Assessment, now some nine years old, and forgot about the unfortunate acronym that helped to doom the process that would follow, you would find a well thought-out process for Needs Assessment that became twisted and contorted by UJC's professionals, a few federations and lay leaders for other purposes. The first ONAD Chair, Alan Jaffe, led the Committee through intense discussions the outcome of which was a recommendation that given the reduced core allocations then, and the incredible array of unmet needs, it was not timely to consider imposing new allocations formulas or new program providers. This conclusion was echoed in the Plant Report some six years later as the ONAD "process" was shut down. And today, the unmet needs have increased exponentially and our system has reduced its core support to JAFI and JDC by unheard of percentages while UJC's leaders said and did nothing. UJC "management" made a decision at some point over the past five years that it would not engage in any advocacy for either JDC or JAFI or in support of the needs they serve, the Plant mandate notwithstanding, and they have left our partners (and ORT and the ENP) hanging in the wind. ONAD became totally politicized, pushed by the Chairs, staff and consultants first in one direction, then another...but, always, ending up in the same place. It was a disaster.
There remains a need for a fair and equitable national needs assessment mechanism that would vet our partners' work and form the basis for advocacy and systemic support. This would not be some "Planning Table" at which JDC and JAFI would not sit but a needs analysis and evaluation Committee in which our Partners would be treated as the partners they once were -- with respect, dignity and trust.
Lay and Professional Leadership. From all that I know of them, there is great professional talent pool poorly led, if led at all, at UJC. These are men and women dedicated to Jewish communal life and to the sacred work in which they are engaged. True, there are some paper pushers who have figured out the UJC bureaucracy and play it well, kissing appropriate derrieres to keep or improve their positions. Were UJC the meritocracy of, say, a large law firm, the professional bureaucrats would be gone and the best and brightest would move up. Strange management decisions -- e.g., bifurcate Development from Supplemental Giving while UJC is preaching the program created by Development of "the collaborative fund raising model," deconstructing Rennaissance & Renewal, one of the foundation stones of the new merged organization without governance action, throwing literally millions at UJC-Israel to create an absolutely unnecessary organizational presence there that no federation has asked for (or needs in this economic environmnet or any other) -- the ugly "force out"of senior, caring long-time professionals and para-professionals without compassion, only whining, have contributed to a malaise at 25 Broadway at the worst possible time. It is long past time for a new broom to sweep aside the detritus at the top and make room for a new generation of professional leaders. Think what UJC could be if the Senior professionals at UJC all mirrored William Daroff and others.
On the lay leadership side, the situation is even worse. The UJC lay leadership "circle of trust" is bound so tightly that air cannot penetrate let alone ideas from "the outside." Kanfer and Manning have certainly not created a Kearns-Goodwin Lincolnesque Team of Rivals, but, instead, a team of sychophants from whom a critical word is never heard. Pushed out along the way were NextGen mega-donors anxious to breathe new life into UJC -- like David Fisher and Scott Seligman -- and respected philanthropists like New York's Morris Offit, who resigned his post as the founding Chair of the still-born Center for Jewish Philanthropy when Kanfer would not let Morris do the job for which he was appointed. It has been clear that the current lay leadership group likes being alone at the top, they like pulling the strings, they like being able to bring only their own ideas to the fore, they really like "strutting their hour upon the stage." (Oh, if it had only been but an hour.) They just don't like to share.
Gender. UJC invested real quality time, dollars and energy in confronting the "glass ceiling" in Jewish communal life. Yet, UJC management thought nothing of forcing from the UJC professional ranks over the past four years, the most senior women professionals in our system -- and the UJC lay leaders chose to absolutely ignore the inhuman and "un-Jewish" manner in which these women were treated. It was a stain on UJC from which the organization has not recovered. The great news is that so many of these professionals have found new roles in Jewish communal service where they are making important contributions...and have found the joy they once had working at UJA, CJF and UJC.
The federations. From UJC's beginning I counselled UJC's Chairs and chief professionals to engage with the federation owners. I suggested they work from small successes to bigger ones. The advice, based upon years of experience with federation lay and professional leaders, was consistently and totally ignored. UJC attempted to build engagement based upon so-called "big ideas," and, under the current leadership, "big ideas" never, ever fully thought through, failed. More and more "ideas" were dictated from New York without discussion or process -- the most egregious example being the March 2007 "Reorganization Strategy" roll-out where UJC federation leaders were summoned to New York by Kanfer/Rieger, then told they could neither comment upon nor question the "Strategy" which was read to them. They were then "sent home." I was given a "heads' up" from the CEO that piece-mealed out the "Strategy" to me; when I registered my objection to the impacts of the strategies on FRD assistance to the federations, Rieger chose to attack me and the Development professionals in writing, in a manner unbecoming the professional head of our system, of any charitable system.
In general it has appeared that the federations have failed to hold UJC to the same standards by which they are themselves measured. The "issue" to many has been only cost with no return on investment. Instead of demanding more of UJC, federation after federation, particularly the federations of the West, isolated, and, absent any attempts by UJC's leaders to engage them on anything other than Dues, effectively and de facto have concluded they must withdraw from the System. UJC leaders apparently didn't care so long as Dues were paid. (The Chair of one major Western federation, a most prominent philanthropist, advised me on a visit that "...in the 16 months I have been Chair, no one from the leadership of UJC has reached out to me or my community." I chose not to report this to UJC's leaders as they had come to view such messages as treasonous on my part. I did tell a Large City Executive who clearly passed the message on as Rieger soon advised me that his contact with this lay leader had been so constant that he, Rieger, had been offered the vacant CEO position in that federation [!]. (Such is the fantasy world of Howard Rieger.) Now, when UJC needs lay access to the federations who, one after another, are abandoning the organization, UJC has a void in the number of Large City lay persons to dialogue with those federations, so very many having been driven away by Kanfer, Rieger, Manning and Gelman. The lay cupboard is bare. UJC, hoisted on its own petard. We need new leaders who will rally the federations, work with federation leadership, actually be interested in what is happening in those 157 incredible, exciting places where the work is being done for our People.
If UJC survives the disaster its leaders have created, the next iteration of lay and professional leadership will have a monumental task of building the trust in the national organization that has never...never...been earned, just demanded. This group has assumed all they need do is ask for trust and it will be given. They have done nothing to earn it and, more's the pity, don't feel they have to. And, in this as in all things, they are wrong. The next Chairs and CEO must be committed to building trust as their first obligation.
The Next Generation. As the Toronto GA came to a close, UJC committed itself to engaging with the Next Generation. The next year they said would be dedicated as the Year of the Next Gen. Development came up with Flight -- a program funded by the Fisher Foundation -- bringing future leaders into direct engagement with the best of our philanthropy. And, with "Lunch With A Legend" and the continuation of the beautiful Young Leadership Cabinets begun so long ago by UJA -- that was about it. The supposed commitment turned out to be no more than lip service, ephemeral, breeding cynicism at best.
Focus. Those of you have kept up with these Posts know that I have pleaded with UJC to focus its goals and programs to reflect what federations want and need. It is vital to any understanding of where UJC is (or isn't) today to understand, like a bunch of people with Adult Onset ADD, this leadership group careens from pole to pole, constantly changing direction, constantly without focus. A focused UJC on the federations (rather than on their own ideas which, in the main, drive federations away) will lead to engagement. But, when you don't sit with federations in their home offices and when you don't listen, the organization whithers into irrelevancy. And this one has. "What have you done to earn our trust?" is the threshold question -- the one UJC can't answer. Ask for a Table of Organization and, if one existed, you would readily see that UJC has become about everything....and, therefor, like Seinfeld, about nothing. New leaders capable of bringing focus to the unfocused are needed...yesterday.
The Next Chairs and CEO. The "Search" for Rieger's successor has taken on the trappings of an epic. With periodic reports to the Executive Committee on "progress," but no single candidate, one begins to wonder if outsider and insiders alike may be daunted at the prospect of cleaning up the mess that will be left behind. With disastrous decisions magnified during this period of economic crisis, unilateral irrational decisions (fund the ENP, fund the IAI, partner with the Satmar or our system as we know it is over, etc., etc.), the CEO often absent and unaccounted for, UJC needs a new professional leader now. My fear is that Howard wants to "train" his successor; I can think of nothing worse. That "training" calls for a Professional Advisory Group of let's say: John Ruskay, Steve Nasatir, Mark Terrill, Jeff Klein, Larry Fine, Rick Meyer, Lee Wunsch, Cathy Schwartz, Marcia Hurwitz, Gary Weinstein, Todd Stettner and Jacob Solomon, among others, with Sam Astrof, Bill Daroff and Rob Hyman, for starters.
The debate within the Search process may be between those who want to find a new CEO from outside the system (frequently and mistakenly called thinking "outside the box") and those who believe that a man or woman who knows our system and speaks the lingua franca of federations is the right choice given the challenges of the present and future. ( I recall as if it were yesterday, the disastrous hire of one from outside our system in UJC's earliest days as EVP. She would rise at meetings and announce one incredible discovery after another: "The federations raise money!!!" She was, after some monthis of these epiphanies, let go.) One "finalist," as I have been told, took a senior position in one of our system's most venerated organizations; another appears to be a senior executive in a national non-profit unreated to the federation system. And another a senior official at an Eastern academic institution -- none with any experience with our UJC-federation system (although at least one has served on a federation board). I have read the Job Description (written apparently by at least 6 consultants) and Moshe Rabeinu wouldn't qualify. Let's get real and put the best and brightest in place who knows and understands the challenges he or she will face. And, then, let us pray.
As to successor Chairs. Is there even a Nominating Committee in place? I think the answer is no. And, that's the case even though it's long past time that the federations identify women and men for these positions who come out of a successful federation experience, who understand that collective responsibility is more than a throwaway phrase in a speech but the core value that distinguishes our system, who might actually know federation leaders around the country among all of the City-sizes, that the annual campaign is the lifeblood of our federations from largest to the smallest, not something to be deprecated; that expanding leadership opportunities to include those who might disagree with us to a broad group of women and men leads to engagement and engagement leads to support. Let's amend the By-Laws and reduce the Chairs' terms to two years. And it is long past time to identify Chairs who will engage with federations directly building relationships to secure the future of our system. There is great damage to be undone; no one associated with that damage should be involved in the Nominating or Search processes.
But, I have an alternative. Let's begin the process of recontructing UJC with a clean slate. Bring together the best minds -- professional and lay -- and let's take UJC, or what's left of it, apart, down to its skeleton and then rebuild it. First, discharge the Search and Nominating (if one exists) Committees. Simultaneously, the federations would install a "caretaker" governance proportionally representative of federations by City-size and select an interim CEO. Give these leaders a time certain to report their recommendations on functions, structure, staffing, governance and budget. How do you do this with the current CEO's and Chairs in place? UJC would effectively be placed in "receivership." The federations who share a common commitment to the present and future of our system would call a national Summit, thank the CEO and Chairs for their service and move forward.
One of my good friends, a caring, dedicated federation leader who thinks about the UJC-Federation relationship, wrote the following last week: "I am not optimistic about UJC in its current form and function but I'm honestly more worried about our individual federations which are being battered by the economy, the impact of which has simply exacerbated systemic changes already in process. If UJC was doing its core business, it would have become (the) thought leader on some of these changes, Instead, it went down a path that neither provided leadership nor vision. For a $37 million enterprise our collective investment needs a bailout." Amen.
Friends, it's time to count down and apply the shock paddles that might jump start UJC from its current state to new life and vitality. This isn't going to happen if we continue to enable as we have over the past four years (+). As someone said recently: It's time for change; in fact, for many of them. We can't await August or November. We have seen five years and close to $200 million of our donors' dollars go up in smoke just in the past four years. Let's take our ownership responsibilities seriously and get on with them .